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I recorded 1 second of my life every day in 2016 — and here’s the 6-minute movie

Jan. 1, 2017 | 8-min read

I recorded one second of my life every day in 2016, and with the help of a cool little app called 1 Second Everyday, I stitched them together into a movie.

More than half a million minutes in 2016, narrowed down to just 6:

I wrote a bit about what the project was like, and what I learned, too:

I had no idea what my movie would look like when I started it

When I took my first second of the year on Jan. 1, I had a three-week plan and no more:

1. Drive home to Chicago from Santa Fe, New Mexico
2. Move in with my parents
3. Look for a job???

I still had two weeks left at my Santa Fe animal sanctuary job, and I figured those 14 days would be the most interesting footage I’d have for a while. Horses, turkeys, dogs, oh my:

But then I found a strange job on the internet that flew me to Asia, and I spent the next 10 months traveling, living and working abroad.

Wait, this movie is now a travelogue??

I was stoked for my little film and the huge, early plot twist. How could I have seen that coming on Jan. 1? I’m taking this attitude with me for 2017: I have no idea what amazing and challenging surprises are in store, even if I try to guess.

Moving photo with sound > silent, still photo

One second is just enough time to glimpse a larger scene, to peek into a conversation, a dinner, a walk. To hear the ambient sound of honking, chirping or laughter (usually, my own).

One second is enough for a short pan, to see a smile, hear an exclamation of surprise.

I put a soundtrack over the video, but some of my favorite moments from my clips are auditory:

The Bangkok train announcement (“Thong Lo”) for the next stop on Aug. 29. A cat’s meow on Nov. 22. My friend saying “I think you’re recording a vi-” on Dec. 23.

Editing as you go is jumping without a net

The 1SE App helps you choose your seconds as-you-go. I didn’t watch what I’d already recorded very often throughout the year, so some sequences are more jarring and disjointed than others.

But it also allowed for some happy coincidences.

I love these matching expressions March 24 and 25:

On July 7, a performer on the right side of the frame raises her arm in dance. On the 8th, a friend points, standing in the same position on the screen:

The more times I watch my movie, the more of these fun patterns I notice.

Each day is worth the same, no matter what

I have Facebook albums for my vacations; I don’t have photo albums of my work commutes, or what I read online.

But that’s how I spend the majority of my days: Going to work, going to the gym, seeing friends, writing or reading on my computer.

It seemed like during the days that a lot of exciting things happened — caving in Vietnam, an afternoon at a water park, Christmas day — I had dozens of video snapshots that would have made great scenes. But other days, I could barely find anything to record other than my computer screen.

And I have quite a few of those seconds.

Some days, I even forgot altogether.

But each day only gets one second. By nature of the project, I couldn’t choose 14 seconds from an exciting weekend and then skip over the next two weeks of regular city life.

I had to find something to capture in those days, too.

And those ended up being some of my favorites.

Nothing says “Saigon” to me like whatever these crab balls are, a site I’d see every night walking home from the office:

And nothing says Bangkok like this street and my daily walk to the train past a construction site:

And something as mundane as the ground I walked on shows a different perspective on my life I otherwise wouldn’t notice.

There’s some quote about, if you can’t find what’s beautiful and meaningful in every day life (though maybe it’s not necessarily feet), you’re certainly not going to be able to capture it when stuff’s exciting. Or maybe I made it up, but either way, I think it’s true.

The project felt like a slog through the middle months of the year, when I settled more into routine in Bangkok vs. Saigon.

But I felt it was my fault when I couldn’t find something to record on the “normal” days. It’s easy to tune out of a walk and live in your thoughts. The project forced me to be a little more mindful, a little more aware, a little more creative.

Am I recording one second everyday in 2017?

This is what most people ask after I mention this project. (And I have rarely mentioned it. Do you know how hard it is to keep a secret for 365 days??)

Short answer, no.

I am SO glad I have this visual and sonic diary of 2016, which turned out to be an incredible year for me, personally.

But the app falls precisely between my desire to live in the moment and be OK with letting things go, and my competing desire to keep every moment and memory forever and ever and never forget anything.

Sure, it’s only one second, but to snag some good ones, it takes more than a second of thought.

The first half of the year was more spontaneous, but in the latter half, I started to feel a bit more more pressure.

I was making actual progress in this long undertaking I started on a whim, and the stakes started to feel higher. I’d often think about my day in the morning in terms of what opportunities I thought I’d have available to record.

Amazing moments happen fast, and to get one second of the truly great ones, you’ve got to have your phone or recording equipment of choice at the ready pretty often. I have so much video of this year I didn’t use.

In 2017, I’d like to spend less time thinking about what a moment will look like in film, and more time actually being present in them.

But I’m so happy I did it!

More than anything, this project proves that doing something a little bit every day can be pretty amazing when you add them all up.

I did a lot of other things every day in 2016 that added up a ton over the year: exercising and eating healthier, drinking a lot less, reading more, meditating more, setting achievable goals, etc. etc. etc., and that led to:

A lot can change in 365 days

Nine freaking days in, I forgot to record a second for the day. So when I remembered, right before bed, I flipped my phone’s camera around, and took what I thought was a neutral-faced selfie.

I’ve always hated this Jan. 9 second, because that neutral expression turned out to look more like worry and unhappiness. It barely masked a lot of the feelings I was having those days, and it feels too personal. Most photos that are Facebook-appropriate say, “I’m having so much fun!,” not “Here’s a depressing selfie of me in my PJs, worrying about my life.” No Instagram filter can help this.

Still, it’s a accurate record of what those days felt like.

And it’s nice to see what’s changed in 365 days. Almost exactly 11 months later, I took another selfie where I thought I was making a neutral face:

No, that’s definitely the hint of a smile.

Life’s no Go-Pro commercial

One of my favorite seconds is a slow-mo underwater shot on the Thai islands:

But it’s the exception, not the rule. I was not often slow-mo swimming at a beach I’d describe as “desktop-background.”

Some of the seconds are, when I look back at them, too dark and grainy or too boring, I think.

When I realized the only footage I had on March 3 was of a weird huge bug on my gross balcony, I knew this project was not going to be a glossy Instragram ad, no matter how hard I tried.

There were more setbacks than just bug footage oversights. In late March, I lost a few days of video when my phone was stolen. I also had to re-choose and stitch the first three months of seconds, and I was so close to abandoning my movie with that task before me.

I wonder how true-to-life my resulting 6 minutes is. Is it an accurate log of what my 2016 looked like? How many shots are important to me because I have the contextual memory, but boring to a viewer?

Should I care? Is this the equivalent of bringing out your home movies to show your neighbors? Does anyone watch a 6-minute YouTube video anymore?

I like watching this movie now, though, and I can’t wait to see it in 20 years after these memories aren’t so fresh.

What makes a good second?

My original idea for this written piece was “What makes a good second?” but after several false starts, I realized that I still wasn’t really sure.

If you try this project, you’ll probably find that the stuff that looks coolest won’t be most important to you.

It will be the people, or the ambient sounds that take you back to a place, or the small moments that no one realized you were recording.

I’ve found that, in the end, it doesn’t matter what each second looks like. They don’t have to stand on their own. All each moment has to do is be a part of the whole, whether dark and grainy or some wonder of the world. Together, they’re my life. Sad selfies, missing days, bugs and all. And that’s pretty incredible.