Apple Watch: Some Musings

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By Andrew McStay

I’ve left this blog for far too long so time for an update of sorts. Since I started this blog I’ve got though a lot of wearables and now have a shelf’s worth of bits, bobs, trackers, wellbeing helpers, EEG units and wearable computers (not least Google Glass). Of all the wearables I’ve kept using, I like Spire’s respiration wearable. This is a pebble-like object that clasps into trouser hips or bra straps tracks breathing so to assess whether people are feeling calm, tense or focused. While breathing, inhaling and exhaling may not seem an especially subtle measure, the results are actually quite accurate (verified by me).

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The unit itself gives prompts when to take a break and when to collect one’s thoughts and get things in perspective. For people who spend a lot of time with computers this can be quite useful. Although Glass hasn’t had much use of late, it still remains a technology with a great deal of potential (see here, here and here for Glass posts). Undoubtedly there will be a Glass 2, although Vuzix have a range of interesting (and less dorky) glasses to arrive to market. Having met one of their managers at WearablesEurope, a conference in London, I was left wondering whether they are marketing this well enough to be noticed by the mass market (or even mass military and industrial procurement arms).

The wearable I’ve been spending most time with is Apple’s Watch. I opted for the 42mm gun metal sports version as I do a fair bit of bike riding and running.

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My thoughts so far are mixed. Of all Apple products, this is one that certainly seems “work in progress”. However, this is not for the reasons you might expect. Apple have received criticism for Watch’s battery life but this is proving a non-issue. The battery actually lasts longer than advertised (presumably Apple erred on the side of caution) and will do under two days at a push. This means the watch will easily a last a full day and therefore can simply be charged when the user is charging their phone.

On unpacking the unit, I found the first wearable watch problem: which arm should one wear it on? On the right which feels most natural but involves using the left hand to navigate it; or, awkwardly on the left arm, so to be navigated with the more dexterous right hand? I opted for the right arm. The functionality of Watch is limited in that it is highly dependent on the user’s phone. Calls can be made with Watch, but this is an extension of the phone. Twitter and newsfeeds (such as Guardian and BBC) can also be monitored and scrolled-through, but functionality is limited. Voice recognition for Twitter would be useful. There are also a range of voice to text apps available. I’ve been using Drafts which is great for when an idea strikes and needs to be written down there and then. These can later be emailed from the phone.

Health

More gratification has been gained from the health and sports tools. Some of these I’ve installed myself (such as Strava) and others come bundled. The bundles health package records calories burned through movement and exercise, amount of movement measured by time and the amount of times one stands through the day. If one thinks back to Tim Cook’s “sitting is the new cancer line”, the idea here is that the user responds to the hourly prompts to get up and take a break – if only for a minute. The app relies on the tracker so does not detect all forms of exercise. It would be good if the bundled health app on Watch would play nicely with Strava so to register cycling (distance, heart rate and climbing). However, where it comes into its own is in “nudging” one to get of their seat, to spend a little more time walking and to burn a few more calories. This is gamification of sorts, but what is attractive is that it is doable and prompts the user to better day-to-day health. When linked with Apple’s Healthkit that has capacity for extraordinary detail, it really drives home how little we know about our own health. For example, I had no idea my heart rate is so low (mid-50s to 60s), although I admit I very rarely darken my GP’s doors. While I’m no ardent libertarian, Apple’s move into health really shows how antiquated our [UK] system is. I will definitely be seeking to have greater control over my own records and a copy of these for myself.

Privacy

This then raises questions about privacy. Apple recently have been making all the right noises about privacy, encryption and lack of access to keys (interesting Wired article here). This is a branding exercise but one seemingly backed up by real tech’ developments. Given that privacy campaigners, defenders and writers have for too long been tarred with the “what have you to hide” mnemonic, having the coolest brand on the planet on-side is no bad thing. For the first time in a while I feel rather positive about privacy developments. In the UK we have just had the Anderson report, European countries such as Belgium are stepping back from dragnet surveillance, the US seems to be climbing down from surveillance of its own citizens (but not its “friends” around the world), email services such as Lavaboom are gaining traction and for some time now we have been using apps with PGP. While there is much work to be done (particularly in UK), there is scope for optimism.

Back on Apple, credibility is required. Their future is clearly focused on generalized healthcare and sensor-driven homes, as well as entertainment, so Apple are right to try to put the best moral foot forward. Close assessment of where data goes and whom it is shared with (in aggregated form or otherwise) is required, but in general I buy the ethical brand line because it makes strategic economic sense. After all, surveys from the data industry, academics and organisations such as Pew Internet Research repeatedly highlight that people do not feel in control of personal information (see Pew survey here). I hope I’m not proved wrong because the stakes are going to be rather high.

Soon smartwatches will listen to your body to work out how you’re feeling

 

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Reposted from The Conversation

 

Final details of Apple’s new smartwatch have finally arrived at the firm’s glitzy Spring Forward event. But while the hype machine steps up another notch, there are other issues regarding health and self-tracking and, possibly even more important, over wearable tech companies’ interest in our emotional lives.

Apple’s Watch records exercise, tracks our movements throughout the day, assesses the amount of time we are stood up and reminds us to get up and move around if we have been sat for too long – let’s not forget Tim Cook’s “sitting is the new cancer” line. It achieves this by means of an accelerometer, a heart rate sensor, WiFi and GPS. There are already many smartwatches on the market such as the Pebble and offerings from LG, Sony, Samsung and Motorola, among others. Of course, these haven’t had the Apple marketing Midas touch.

Whether the Watch will be a flop or success, Apple’s entry is a significant contribution to industry-wide attempts to get us using wearable devices. The market is predicted to grow from 9.7m units in 2013 to 135m in 2018, according to CCS Insight, while a report from UK retailer John Lewis also records steady growth in wearables for health and well-being: sales were up 395% from 2013. This is notable because John Lewis is not aimed at the tech-savvy, and therefore presents a reasonable indicator of mass-market take-up of wearables.

Information is power

To understand the significance of Watch and other self-tracking wearables, we should look to Silicon Valley and the Quantified Self movement. This began in San Francisco around 2007 as the editors of Wired magazine, Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly, initiated a group of like-minded people interested in “self-knowledge through numbers”, a motto and philosophy of sorts for the Quantified Self movement. It entails a deeply libertarian outlook of de-centralisation, a shrunken state, autonomy and self-reliance, and pre-emptive and preventative measures based on the use of data.

Apple’s move into wearables is inevitable as the market grows, but the broader interest in health is also notable. It reflects an interest from corporations and national health providers alike in promoting preventative and anticipatory technologies. The promise wearable technology offers is information: about consumers’ and patients’ behaviour, their health, and whether they stick to prescribed treatments.

This has ushered in an age of medical self-interrogation, in real time and real life contexts, whether this be from office pressure, in relationships, or the impact of disease or physical stresses on the body. Wearables are only part of the health story, as advocates of digital health care foresee how the doctor-patient approach would be radically altered by means of wearable monitors and sensors in the home. Technology behemoths such as Apple and Google alongside many startups would clearly be interested in the possibilities offered by reorganising health provision along these lines.

Think and act

Beyond health, Apple’s interest in emotion is key to understanding the significance of its watch. Apple’s website promises that we will reach out and connect in ways we never have. Watch will allow us to draw doodle pictures and observe others as they create theirs, give loved ones a “tap” on the wrist to show we are thinking of them, send real-time heartbeats to others, and so on.

The message is to use connectivity to be intimate even at a distance, with the languageApple uses an attempt to claim intimacy and sociability from afar, and to humanise and make palatable what are essentially tracking technologies.

There is however a more literal emotional dimension to biometric technologies: the Watch is an example of what I term empathic media – machines able to assess, collect and make use of data about our emotions. This can be achieved through interpretation of speech patterns and tone, gesture, gaze direction, facial cues, heart rates, and respiration patterns. While Apple’s product does not offer all this (although earlier iterations of Watch made similar promises), it still sits within a wider context of technologies that quite literally feel our bodily reactions.

Until now the online world has understood our preferences through the search term keywords we use and what we click; empathic media will quite literally feel our reactions. This is important because if companies can understand moods, emotions or states of arousal, they have access to information that may sway the decisions we make.

We have yet to see Apple’s privacy policy for the watch. While I’m sure it will state that no personally identifiable information will be disclosed to third-parties, what remains to be seen is what can be drawn from aggregated biometric and emotional data, and where that data ends up. This is a key revenue stream for other empathic media and wearable companies. Will Apple be doing the same?

Why Glass failed: a problem of narcissism?

Google Glass – a pair of augmented reality spectacles in development since 2010 – was introduced to the public in April 2012 under the name Project Glass. Across Spring 2014, Google flirted with the US mass market, first offering the ‘Explorer’ beta version of the product for sale in April 2014 for 24 hours only (costing $1500), selling out in hours, and then in May, putting this version back on the market until its stocks sold out. An upgraded beta version was launched in the UK in June 2014 for £1000. Industry analysts predicted that a commercial version of Glass would probably be launched at the end of 2014 or 2015. Then, in January 2015, Glass was officially withdrawn from sale.

Despite the media furore around privacy-invasive ‘Glassholes’, Glass did not fail because of people’s concerns about privacy or surveillance. We contend it failed quite simply because the wearers look odd and conspicuous, thereby themselves becoming ‘subjects of the gaze’. Our own experience with Glass (and other more inconspicuous wearable cameras like Narrative Clip) is that thankfully no one punched us in the face (as widely hyped by the media), although our forays out in public were limited. In fact, with Glass, the only looks received in public (on trains and in coffee shops) are “I’d really like a go but don’t know how to ask” (We could of course be really bad at reading faces… maybe we should check our life-log!).

Along with lack of apps and day-to-day functionality, Glass primarily failed at the first hurdle because it could not persuade wearers to use it. Indeed, having recently met with staff from Google Glass in San Francisco, in regard to their own usage downtown, they pretty much said as much, i.e. it draws too much unwanted attention on the wearer. Further, after two weeks in the tech capital, we did not see one person wearing Glass despite the litany of start-ups and established tech’ companies populating the area. One might question the safety in wearing Glass (it’s pricy, after all), but even in coffee bars populated with the tech elite South of Market Street, and on trips to Palo Alto and Stanford, not a single person was wearing it – even around the Computer Science departments (maybe because Apple were having a recruitment day on the lawns outside).

Is that it then? Is this failed foray into smart-glasses the last we’ll hear of it? It seems not. Although Glass may have failed, there are plenty of competitors attempting to create and own the smart-glasses market with products that do not make the wearer look like Arnie or Robocop, including Vuzix’s M100, GlassUp’s Eyeglass, Recon Instruments’ Recon Jet and Telepathy’s One. Notably too, lessons are being learned and recent iterations have recognised the need for a product that looks better than Glass.

However, there is little point in speculating on whether smart-glasses will or will not be adopted. The more interesting dimension is the associated cultural norms and principles that are developing around ‘veillance’, or mutual watching. Although most obviously linked to surveillance, this is only one form of watching. The field of watching and visuality is much broader than that. After all, since Kodak introduced box cameras in 1888 (that also brought with it questions about privacy), we have all enjoyed watching and recording each other by mediated means. As made famous in the last couple of years, we also enjoy watching ourselves by means of the humble ‘selfie’. Veillance can be fun.

Professor Steve Mann from the University or Toronto, long dubbed the ‘father of wearables’ has been creating and reflecting on wearable technology for several decades now, and has conceptualised a wide range of concepts concerning ‘veillance’. At a recent seminar we held at Bangor University titled DATA-PSST!, Mann asked what would the world look like if wearables are adopted by the masses, reflecting on how social norms of mutual watching may play out. He points to some interesting themes and begins the messy business of untangling perspectives and multiple modes of mediated seeing. These include: being watched, but you are able to watch back; watching as a means of holding powerholders to account; watching without the consent of others; powerholders watching others but us being banned from watching them; direct action to prevent any form of veillance; and the theoretical possibility of equiveillance where surveillance is balanced with sousveillance.

It remains to be seen whether smart-glasses will ever becomes mass-market, but what is for sure is that regimes, fields and modes of visuality are set to deepen and develop.

Hello San Francisco

Friday morning was spent at Google Glass base-camp on Spear St off Market Street, in SF. I was little late for my appointment as I got managed to get lost in the building, but all smiles on arrival. Free Coca Cola, beers (IPA) and Pellegrino in fridge among other local US beverages. The Coke did indeed refresh after my stomp to get there on time. As you can see in the pics, the hotel loft was minimal but breezily lit (to mix metaphors).

Chelsea asked what would like to know and I told her that my Glass use had been fairly limited and a little underwhelming so she asked me what apps I’d been using. I haven’t spent as much time as I should with it, but told her Strava (the bikey/running app) was the one I use most.

She suggested that I use Hangout. I’ve used this for virtual conference attendance, but not with Glass. This allows conversation via chat which sounds useful, not least as I often use Google chat with Vian. Another app is Word Lens, for translating signs as you look at them. For example, I would not understand Dutch for a sign that says take the second left for the Royal Hotel. Not only does Glass translate, but the typography and sign design remains the same. Quite useful if you do a fair amount of travelling. I wonder if that works with Welsh? Google Translate does, so maybe!

Surprised that I haven’t seen anyone wearing Glass in SF, I asked Chelsea if she uses Glass herself out and about. She said that if tired she doesn’t as it she does not want to answer questions (“Google Glass! – can I try it?”), but if energetic she’s more accommodating. I’ve only worn Glass out a few times – but the experience accords with my own. People are interested, not spooked.

I also talked her through MindRDR, the app developed by ThisPlace that I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. She was VERY interested in this, but who wouldn’t be – telekinesis is an easy sell. On the nature of development (and she was keen to stress that this isn’t her area), Glass is being developed as a neutral platforms so for developers to use it as they will. This chimes with other start-ups that I’ve been talking to (for example Planet Labs) who also highlighted that their technology is neutral in character. I got further into this discussion with Planet Labs and there is definitely a philosophy behind this – possibly even a Bay philosophy – in that they’re just putting technology out there and people will do what they will with it. This is quite different to how social constructivists and cultural scholars look at tech’. For them technology is always political as it has dispositions, affordances, and it intervenes and makes a different in society. This seems to ring true for Glass, but it remains to be seen what differences these will be.

#Telekineticmedia, ThisPlace and ‘Performance Anxiety’ ☺

A busy week in London seeing analytics companies and developers, but in one standout meeting I took my first photo by means of telekinesis. This was on Wednesday at ThisPlace, the developers of MindRDR. A massive thanks go to Russell Plunkett (Innovations Director) for generosity of time and installing MindRDR on my Glass unit. Much appreciated.

Having been a somewhat underwhelmed with Glass the MindRDR app grants insight into the potential for Glass. Despite the mass-market push (will or won’t Google launch it, how much will it cost, what will people do with it, will they be beaten to the UK market by other headsets, and so on), I’ve been fairly sceptical about its adoption. I’ve yet to meet a wearer who feels comfortable with Glass in public and who does not recognise the potential for making other people around them feel uncomfortable. We began by discussing some of the opportunities of the wearables field, applications and thoughts about privacy, but as Russell’s real passion is MindRDR, we soon got onto that.

The MindRDR app itself is deceptively simple: it currently allows the wearer to take photos by means of the EEG unit and share them to Twitter. Russell installed the application on to my Glass unit and showed me how it works. This is not a regular app and requires sideways installation. Details here. Taking photos is very simple, but it requires one relax and focus so to allow the correct brain activity to take place. The idea is that the user relaxes and concentrates so to generate enough brain activity for the EEG unit to gain a suitable signal. The notion of ‘concentration’ is an interesting one. We use the word a lot but with little in the way of a referent. For MindRDR, success is gained by quietening external stimuli, relaxing and focusing. I struggled with this at first, perhaps because I was aware that it was taking time, my mind was wandering (I was meant to be taking the lead on our meet-up), and I was also ‘mindful’ that Russell had other things to be getting on with. It probably did not help that I was trying to take photos of Russell and on thinking what he might be thinking about, my concentration was broken. Performance fail! I soon got the hang of it when playing with it later. This image below is from the meeting room of ThisPlace.

It works by means of the EEG unit reading electrical activity in the brain, sharing this information with Glass by Bluetooth, and Glass taking and sharing the photo. The user-interface that we see is a horizontal bar across our line of vision that we mentally ‘command’ to go up. Once the bar hits the top of the screen it takes a photo.

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Russell also mentioned ThisPlace are in process of developing further iterations with more complex interactions so to cause bars to go up and down, and left and right. This will grant more control over devices and applications. Overall this experience highlighted positive dimensions of Glass, particularly in terms of health – for example Locked-in syndrome and broader cases of paralysis. On regular use, one just has to relax!

#Telekineticmedia 2

By Andy

Much was made in the news a few weeks ago of an app developed by This Place, an application developer in London. They designed a program called MindRDR that allows Google Glass users to take photos using their mind. This works by means of a Neurosky Mindwave Mobile headset, a consumer-level electroencephalography (EEG) unit. What is somewhat surprising is that these are readily available online for around £100. I bought one. The unit works by measuring when parts of the brain are undergoing higher or lower levels of activity. The measuring part is important ­– indeed the Neurosky marketing campaign line is “Body and Mind. Quantified.” The headset alone allows limited control over Bluetooth-paired mobile phones and games.

Brain activity can be raised when we focus and concentrate so to allow Glass use, photo and video surveillance, and use of Glass-based applications with “the power of our minds” – or by telekinesis. Clickbait language I know, but the word is accurate. The Glass example received much coverage in the UK news (with representatives from The Place interviewed by BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky News), but ostensibly this was a simple hack of existing technology (no bad thing). The promise of telekinetic media as a principle has larger consequences. 

As in the picture above, so far I’ve made displays on my mobile phone go up and down by means of my concentration levels, but there are clearly more extensive implications for people with disabilities, gaming, remote access of objects, (be these weapons or medical implements), and surveillance and security. More to come when I’ve paired it with Glass. Interesting times ahead.

#telekineticmedia

By Andy

Glass use has been far less frequent over the last week, although we (myself and Vian) had a meeting with the UK ICO about the future of wearables last Monday. They were less interested in wearables themselves then the nature of data breaches they may instigate. They were non-committal on the potential market success of Glass and other wearables, but notably more interested in identifiable data protection matters than in the technologies themselves.

On Glass itself, I wore the unit on the train and into a local (to the ICO) Costa coffee cafe. This was actually my first public outing. Despite attacks reported in San Francisco earlier this year nobody rushed to rip the unit of my face. Perhaps surprisingly nobody seemed that bothered either, although I got a distinct impression that the unit is in need of some sartorial improvement.

Sitting opposite a 30-something male in “Smart-Casual” attire on the train I fiddled with apps, looked out of the window and down the carriage. Keen to initiate conversation he asked “Is that Google Glass… What’s it like?”, to which I replied “Do you want a go?”.  He was very impressed, and was particularly interested in the social media possibilities – i.e. consuming, sharing and communicating content more simply. I asked if he felt intruded upon when I was wearing Glass to which he answered “no”. My own inclinations as a privacy researcher reflect the supposition of a recent Guardian article that points out that it is a very self-focused technology in which the experience of Glass is all about the self than the others subject to the camera, but certainly in regard to the sample of one who I spoke to – he did not seem particularly bothered (although perhaps the fact he makes a living in part by dealing in Google AdWords for small businesses may have bearing?). 

Following reports a week or two ago that This Place hacked together an electroencephalography EEG unit, Google Glass and built an app for it, I have also bought a consumer-level unit. The lure of telekinetic media was too strong to wait to see if my university would pay (much to the chagrin of my partner). The app called MindRDR allows Glass users to take photos using their mind. This works by means of an EEG headset that is able to measure when parts of the brain are undergoing higher or lower levels of activity. This occurs when concentrating this allowing EEG enabled Glass to “read minds”. There are further implications for people with disabilities, gaming, remote access of objects (be these weapons are medical implements), surveillance, security and many more I’m sure.

More to come on telekinetic media when the unit arrives and I’ve worked how to use it!

So – why Narrative?

by Vian Bakir

In writing a book on wearable media, it’s axiomatic that you’ve got to try them out. My co-author and I thought we’d start with the visually oriented wearables rather than those with other sentic orientations. I could’ve gone for Google Glass, but didn’t fancy foregoing my entire conference budget on a single item. Also, I already wear glasses. Given that it took me hours to choose my recently-bought frames, I couldn’t face having this choice compromised by Glass’ limited eyewear options. But even more to the point, I’m not sure my brain would cope with the amount of real-time info that Glass can give you. I tried on a pair recently, and was truly impressed by the sky-map-app that shows you the overlay of the stars when you look around at the sky. Can’t quite see me getting on with anything else that I’m meant to do, though, if I were to wear Glass full time. This preconception, of course, is based on my own prejudice and misconception, no doubt, of what Glass could do for me. But that was enough to steer me away – and it is just such preconceptions that new tech firms need to factor into their product choices and launches. Plus, do I really want to be punched in the face by others, annoyed by my rather selfish invasion of their personal privacy? Better leave that conundrum to my smiley co-author, who is far more personable than me and much less likely to attract the face-punch. Just as importantly, he is also a deep thinker on privacy issues – and seems pretty happy to be the Glass guinea-pig.

So – that’s why not Glass, but not really why Narrative. Narrative positively appeals to me on two grounds.

  1. Let’s face it – it’s a surreptitious spy-camera. Anyone who knows my recent work will appreciate why this might float my boat.
  2. And anyone who knows me personally might also be aware of my crappy memory. Can’t put names to faces (this endlessly annoys my students). Can’t remember phone numbers or pass words. [Weirdly, CAN remember every detail of a conversation from a year ago – but this is usually a good way to start an argument rather than anything socially constructive.]

So – 1 and 2 makes me a sucker for Narrative’s marketing which promises ‘A new photographic memory’. Sounds promising. Let’s give it a whirl. More on this next time …

His & Hers Suicide Pact on Narrative

by Vian Bakir

Narrative Day 2

Still don’t know if Narrative works…

Still, will wear it for my epic run on Rhossili beach (had enough of Tenby yesterday – moved on). Hardly anyone on the beach here apart from a shoal of wet-suited surfers, so should avoid any pink seal privacy dilemmas.

… So 4 hours later. Been for my run. Had no pockets, and unlike the drawings in the manual of how to wear Narrative, I was neither sporting a bandana, Panama hat nor tie, so clipped Narrative onto the waistband of my jogging trousers. Was paranoid about it falling off without me noticing, and kept looking down every minute for the first 40 or so. Pretty distracting! Then, forgot about it. I hoped it WAS working, as I noticed that the wind was blasting the golden sand surface into very photogenic streams. There’s no way that I would have captured that with a normal hand-held camera – would never take one jogging, and anyway, had streams of salty tears obscuring my vision for the first 20 mins – a product of salty, warm wind meets, over-exposed-to-computer-screen eyes. Got lost in the moment of running by the sea for a good hour. Then – time to stretch. Again became paranoid that Narrative would fall off into the soggy sand as a series of yoga moves placed my legs into positions that surely the Narrative people wouldn’t have product-tested, when testing their clip-on device. But – no movement, so 10/10 for the clip, even if it does look very corporate.

Took trainers off, rolled up trousers and walked back through the surf edge – mindful of the splashing, uneven water depth, and the need to keep Narrative dry. Started wishing that I had a waterproof pocket. While the sun on the surf and the empty sand was picture-perfect photogenic, I did wonder if a whole hour of this sort of footage was really necessary, and when would I ever have time to review all of this (automatic ‘moments’ notwithstanding). THEN, just as I was engaging in product-scepticism, I came across a sight I have never seen before: what I can only assume was a jelly-fish – but a foot in diameter, and two feet in tendril length, a pearly pink/apricot colour, with very fleshy tendrils, and creamy brain-like looking stuff visible through a hole in its ‘head’. It was just gently being rolled over by the edge of the sea. Probably dead. I’d been jumping waves on that beach just 16 hours prior. Not sure that I’d go back in, having seen the size of this beast. Two taps on Narrative (hopefully – if it’s working) will highlight this picture for me. 30 paces on – I saw an identical jellyfish in the same dead-looking position with a hole in its ‘head’ – this one powder blue. A ‘his and hers’ suicide pact? Two taps on Narrative and hopefully this has been captured.

… Narrative is now on window ledge, hopefully positioned to capture the sky and its clouds – just like the manual suggested. Unfortunately, the ledge is quite small while the window’s white plastic frame is quite large, compared to the Narrative device. Have angled it on a disused wrapper in the hope that the camera might be pointing in the right direction for sky-scapes.

Getting Narrative Out of the Box

by Vian Bakir

Narrative Day 1 – a sunny day in July 2014.

Am on holiday in Tenby. Not quite Positano on the Amalfi Coast, but on a sunny day (as today is), it’s a pretty close substitute in terms of architecture, ocean, cliffs, coffee houses and chill-out factor. A few more tats on show than I recall from Positano, but I digress…

 

Narrative is CLIPPED ON to my shirt pocket. It’s incredibly light (as the marketing literature promises). So now, I’m paranoid that I’m going to lose it – and have to keep looking down to check it’s still there. (I’m already going against the advice proffered in its manual: ‘Let the Narrative Clip be with you naturally. It doesn’t need constant attention.’ I’m sceptical that this is going to be life-enhancing. Currently, it feels like another technological device that I have to look after, be responsible for, and accountable to (could this turn into another – email-esque slave-driver?). Also, given that I’ve just spent 5 hours in the car to get to Tenby – I can’t imagine that there is anything worth reviewing in the photos so far. (Narrative claims that it automatically creates a package of ‘moments’ – what it believes to be themed events from your day – its app telling you how many ‘moments’ have been created. So this 5 hour drive will probably just be a moment in my life log.)

 

Or it might be two moments. Me and other half did stop off at one of my most favourite and treasured N.Wales beauty spots (will not give it away – but it smells of wood smoke, pine trees and sweet freshness) – and we WERE joined by 4 little birds after our brunch crumbs. They were cute, quick, and not really capturable by slow-witted human-operated cameras. So – if Narrative caught those – I’ll be chuffed. We’ll see.

 

Wandering around with Narrative in crowded Tenby – no one seems to be remotely aware that I’m wearing it. I covered its lens with the flap of my shirt pocket (to which it was clipped) while walking through the body-strewn beach full of pink ersatz human seals, as some memories are just not worth preserving. (Also, I think it’s only polite not to have a record of these momentarily displayed mounds of flesh. An almost-naked beach flop is just for Tenby – not for the world. Thankfully no one is wearing a C-string.) That’s my own personal etiquette. Unlike Glass, Narrative has not issued an online user guide on how not to be a (Gl)asshole.)

 

Its operating manual, though, does suggest a range of ways of using the product. (No doubt this is what they’ve been asked by every venture capitalist they’ve ever approached for funds. Note that Narrative Clip is the former Swedish Kickstarter project known as Memoto – its Kickstarter campaign raising $550,000.) In a beautifully simple user manual that’s printed out with adorable, Mr-Men-styled colour illustrations, and that comes in the dinky box (yes, I have a box fetish) in which the product is shipped – so simple and visually attractive that even a manual-phobe like myself doesn’t mind reading it – Narrative suggests that I might want to use it in the following ways:

 

1. ‘Get out there, meet the people you care about and capture your first moments.’ [OK I get it – take it OUT of the box. Take it OUT of the box. USE it. Go on – it’s not scary. Go on, little technophobe. Take it OUT of the box. (It took me a week to take it out of the box.)]

 

2. ‘Experiment with your Narrative Clip. Place it on a window and let it capture the clouds moving, or set it on your desk and capture your day.’ [Hadn’t thought of that – seems like quite a cool idea that also doesn’t invade anyone’s privacy, other than the cat who sometimes sits on the sill. Some academics think this might be a bad thing, but I do not care.]

 

3. ‘Let Narrative change your life for the better. Get outside more, try new things and spend time with the people you love.’ [OK – let’s break this down. (a) ‘Outside’ in Wales means a high chance of some rain. Yet, Narrative specs say ‘don’t get it wet.’ There’s a see-through-waterproof-protection opportunity out there for you budding craft types. (b) Trying ‘new things’ is always a nice idea – but not if you’re worried that it might get knocked off by (just for hypothetical example) bouncing like a maniac at the new under-mountain trampoline in Blaenau Festiniog’s underground cavernous, ravey-lit extravangza while holding onto the wall-string mesh and saying ‘take that, years of back pain caused by torture-book, take that, take that’. Just for hypothetical example. (c) Spending time with the people you love sounds like unsubtle sub-text of ‘don’t take this into work and spy on your colleagues.’ Presumably the people you love are less likely to sue you for inappropriate life-logging.

 

4. ‘Share your favourite moments with others. You’re an example to those around you; use Narrative to inspire them.’ [This must be directed at the Californian market. Can’t see the Brits going for that one!]

 

 

After a day of using Narrative, I’m not sure anything has yet been captured. No lights flash when it takes its pictures (twice minute). [This is unlike Glass which, as someone often on the receiving end of co-author’s Glass gaze gives you the distinctly uneasy (and accurate) feeling that you’re being watched by a cyborg (and whoever is tapped into the cyborg’s network). You know this because Glass’ camera flashes when it takes your pic. No sneaky-pics there. Just mildly disturbing dystopian cyborgness. I say ‘dystopian’ as I really don’t like the whole social surveillance thing where I’m personally involved. (More on this in a later post.)

 

So anyway – still not sure anything has captured. ‘Why not just plug it into your 2nd hand laptop and find out?’ I hear you say. Because, it’s not that simple, is it? First of all I have to download the Narrative app to my newly-acquired smartphone and then log in. This might be easy – but as I haven’t been able to activate my newly-acquired smartphone yet, I have no idea. I have the pay-as you-go card and sim card, and have done my duty by going into the EE shop and telling them what my intentions are (resisting their advice to go for a monthly contract which would, apparently, give me shed loads more data. I pointed out that I make a 10 quid top-up last a year, with normal Nokia phone usage. I ignore their look that suggests that I might be a technological moron.) The sim card, however, needs to be inserted into the phone. I can’t activate the apparent entry point, have no user manual, and am self-conscious of my ability to ‘magically’ fail electronic items. Also, my other half is busy – my phone-Narrative-Explorer mission appears not to be a number one priority…

End of post, though hopefully, not of mission.