A new iPhone app helps you make the most modern form of public diary: It's called One Second Everyday and it prompts you to shoot one second of video, of whatever you are doing, once a day. The program then strings the days – the seconds – together into a movie. The results are hyper-jumpy, cryptic life stories, with no more than one or two words of dialogue possible in any given scene.
It was the idea of a young American called Cesar Kuriyama, a former advertising guy who now gives TED talks and other clever Internetty things. Kuriyama made a similar film from one year in his own life: It's an extremely watchable six-minute sequence (it's up on Youtube, called One Second Everyday – Age 30). The film garnered him a lot of media attention – CNN and the BBC both picked it up – only partly because of the unusual one-second-per-edit device. It has fascinated us also because Kuriyama's life, as presented in these flickering snippets, is so very attractive: He wasn't working when he made the film, so his existence is, from the look of things, everyone's fantasy of travel and socializing. He goes to a lot of restaurants and public events, and also has a lot of time to spend reading in parks. He appears to have no daily drudgery. It's an ideal hipster life.
Actually the story, such as it is, does takes one dark turn with about 60 seconds (that is to say, 60 days) mostly spent in a hospital beside the bed of someone in intensive care (it turns out it's his sister-in-law). She is clearly extremely ill, but by the end of the montage, she appears to be getting better.
Kuriyama has said in interviews the process helps to analyze what is good about his life, and how to live the best life possible. This semi-therapeutic, semi-conceptual approach actually comes from an earlier, 20th century tradition of artmaking. Documenting one's daily existence, no matter how banal the results, was a staple of conceptual art from the 1960s on. Its practitioners include the great On Kawara, who has been painting a picture of each day's date, in white letters on a black background, since 1966. When the Internet and webcams came along, these self-immortalizing records became easy to create, and the practice of ritual daily documenting moved from the domain of the intellectual to that of the banal and the prurient.
It is probably just a coincidence that the title of Kuriyama's app includes a grammatical error – it should read "every day" (daily), not "everyday" (ordinary). Or maybe that's deliberate and clever. "For two years now," says Kuriyama, in his promotional video for the app," I've been recording one second every day, so I'll never forget a day ever again." Why would one want to not forget a day? Perhaps one might want to forget the day waiting in a doctor's office, or at the Cleveland airport.
That was the thing about the previous tradition of self-documenting, particularly in video: the sheer length of the artifacts. Static shots, emptiness, repetition were key. It was very much about all the drudgery that's missing from Kuriyama's privileged life. Watching them was an exercise in endurance and introspection.
Now we're seeing the video equivalent of the tweet. One second of film, it turns out, is all it takes to convey a mood; 15 seconds all it takes to document the anxiety, suffering, sleeplessness and relief of seeing a family member through a life-threatening illness.
The constraint of the one-second shot is one that has been used in film art before. In the documentary film The Five Obstructions (2003), Lars von Trier presents another filmmaker – von Trier's mentor, the senior Danish art filmmaker Jorgen Leth – with a set of obstacles to making a good film. Leth must make the same film – a version of his 1967 experimental classic, The Perfect Human – five times, each with a different set of formal rules. The first "obstruction" is that a cut must be made after each half-second (that is, that no shot be longer than 12 frames). The result is a kaleidoscopic dance and music piece – like all the obstructions, it only makes the obstructed film more lively.
That's why I think this app could make all of our lives look more exciting than they are – it's the perfect vehicle for public narcissism in the age of brevity.