One of the more entertaining running bits in my family is The Camera Routine. It goes like this: There's some sort of birthday or holiday or other special occasion prone to outbreaks of spontaneous and/or staged special moments. One such moment arises and my mother's scramble for her camera begins.
Where is it? In her purse? No wait. On top of the fridge. OK, hold on. Smile! No wait, the battery is dead. OK, hold on. All right, ready this time. Smile! No wait. There's no film in the camera (2005 and before). There's no more memory on this thing (2005 and after). OK, hold on. Ready now. Smile! No wait, I'm taking a movie by mistake. Hold on everybody . . .
And so on, until the requested smiles have long since slackened into something more like aghast wonder. How, how does this happen every time?
I once regarded The Camera Routine as a quirk native to my own family — a cross between tic and tradition. But if a recent wave of gadgetry is any indication, the struggle to capture moments is widespread and begging for solutions.
Moments, you see, are having a moment. Social media has turned them into precious commodities. As our collective bandwidth widens and our connectivity intensifies, it seems the most effective way to capture a specific moment worth remembering/saving/sharing is now to simply seize the (entire) day. We have entered the era of the constantly recording device — Big Brother meets My Mother.
The ebbing of public squeamishness toward public surveillance has much to do with the proliferation of high-definition cameras, from our phones to our drones. Being watched doesn't seem so sinister when we're the ones calling the shots, and the marketplace is responding in kind.
Take Kiba, "the world's first automated home movie maker." Kiba is an interactive, self-editing standalone video camera for the home use that takes hints from sound and motion sensors (as well as a mysterious "joy ranking" algorithm) to determine what moments to record. At the end of each day, it edits and sends you five 20-second clips that offer a candid look at your family's ostensibly most exciting moments, cutting out "90 percent of non-interesting footage." For those who wish to delegate less directorial authority, Kiba can also be scheduled to record at specific times through its companion app, or launched on the fly with voice commands. Housed in a happy-looking plastic enclosure, its cute factor maintains a tense balance with its creep factor.
Along similar lines is Nest Aware, a new paid service available for Nest home security cameras that allows for 24/7 continuous streaming and full playback capabilities. You can also map "activity zones" in the camera's field of view and receive notifications when anything happens in that area — perfect for keeping tabs on Nest-unaware pets, or husbands eyeing cookies intended for bake sales.
There are also less static options for comprehensive documentation. Narrative, whose wearable cameras became a fast favorite among users whose daily doings might seem too casual for GoPros. Where the first Narrative clip-on camera continuously shot photos at regular intervals to assemble the story of your day in pictures, the newly issued Clip 2 shoots both photos and HD video. You can then zap whatever clips you collect directly to your smartphone via WiFi or Bluetooth and share them across social media from there. Understated but conspicuous, the Narrative is meant to see and be seen (so long, reasonable expectations of privacy).
Kapture, too, is meant to present its function as fashion (though both ends earn their share of questions). A Kickstarter-funded wristband that continuously "listens" to ambient audio, Kapture records continuously in a 60-second loop. When you give the wristband a tap, the previous minute of audio is saved and sent to your smartphone. This could come in handy for storing fleeting ideas, hard-to-remember information, ridiculous bits of conversation, or verbal commitments to do the dishes just this once — but it's also kind of an ugly bracelet. Still, it's that clunky visibility that separates Kapture from more nefariously purposed spying tools. (And its close recording range and participatory nature also help pad it from inevitable questions of legality.)
Not everybody is going to be excited about entering a near future where all of our cameras are rolling all of the time ("No thanks, I prefer my memories gauzy," remarked one colleague.) And while the "always on" approach is sure to pick up a lot of those stray bits of life that get left behind and lost in time, there are some experiences that even the highest-definition cam can't catch. As The Camera Routine has shown me time and time again, sometimes the struggle to capture the moment is the one worth remembering.