AT the end of the day on Japan’s snowfields, a group of snowboarders was sitting in a bus when one of them looked out the window and yelled to his mates, “Hey, check that old guy. He’s got his GoPro on backwards.”
As the boarders burst into laughter, a few other middle-aged skiers on the bus were cringing in sympathy. The old man outside the bus, the one who’d recorded the day’s skiing by filming his tracks, was one of us; this was yet another moment when the older generation adopts a new technology and stuffs it up.
There comes a moment in the life of every new technology when the middle-aged decide to give it a go and, despite the fact most will have a “Harry-high-pants” moment, that’s also the moment new technology goes mainstream.
If you were to create a graph of when a particular technology went mainstream, you could mark the start of the sales jump and say, “That’s when my dad asked for a life on Candy Crush” or, “This was the day my mum asked me to Friend her” or “This is when grandpa started talking about going to the rain clouds.”
Fittingly, the week we witnessed someone’s dad wear his personal camera backwards was the same week GoPro — the wearable camera favoured by sportspeople — announced it was going to float on the market. And while the market awaits the arrival of the world’s biggest selling camera, you may be thinking, Go What?
GoPro is to home movies what Google is to search. These compact, portable, rugged cameras can be mounted on helmets, bikes, boards, swords and even the pet dog to record the action for posterity or, more important, for downloading and distribution to friends, family and, sometimes, the family lawyer.
It’s no surprise wearable personal cameras grew out of the extreme sports industry: they give a close-up of the fear, grunts, sweat and debris of adventure. What is surprising is how rapidly these wearable cameras have been adopted by the broader population.
Evidently, lots of people like being stars in their own lives. Last year 2.3 million people decided wearing a camera was the best way to record their achievements. It was the technology that enabled them to get out of bed every morning and declare, “Today is the first day of the rest of the movie.”
And, yes, we have always been the stars in our own lives, it’s just that increasingly the drama of our lives is no longer an interior story but a film posted online.
Distribution is the point of the exercise. Whether you post it on Facebook, edit it into a home movie or upload it to YouTube, your moment of derring-do is likely to end up in the giant, online media empire called My Moment of Madness. It’s not really called that, but these personal clips of action are becoming a new media genre — one that GoPro and other operators are mogul-ing up to.
Already, Virgin has an in-flight channel devoted to stunts and GoPro itself has its own channel on YouTube.
And that’s where the nana response comes in. If you’ve got a camera on your head, you’ve got to perform. You’re under pressure to push the boundaries in the name of good footage.
As the market matures and falls into the hands of stockbrokers, the need to go extreme will lessen. Already firefighters mount cameras, surgeons wear them for teaching and police are using them for protection.
The personal camera is coming in from the snowfields to the classrooms, boardrooms and courtrooms. And, as mum and dad and middleaged professionals take the media mainstream, they’ll do it their way. Even if it is backwards the first time they try it.
When the laughing on the bus was subsiding, one of the snowboarders said, “It’s not so crazy wearing it backwards, you get some good stuff that way.”
The other boarders quietened; they imagined the scenes that they might capture with a backwards-mounted camera. Was this a new angle they’d never thought about before? Then one of the boarders said, “No, that’s just where the action is for the old man. It’s all behind him.” The merriment resumed.