It’s a little before 10 p.m. in Ghana.
A teenaged boy plays a guitar. He sits framed against the backdrop of where two bare, yellowing walls meet; the corner visible shooting up from his left shoulder. The light source is artificial, but its angle is directly in front of the boy and behind the camera’s lens, which provides the view portal into this humble scene.
I don’t know what he’s singing, as it’s in a language I don’t even recognize. There’s an off-key warble, and he’s struggling with the chords. There’s a tinny reverb, likely due in part to the wall construction and likely lack of much carpet. It could be a basement, I think. I watch for maybe 30 seconds, then lose interest.
I tap the button to go back to the home screen where I see the title “Drinks on a patio in São Paulo.” I’m greeted by the smiling face of a 20-something woman wearing a thin, dark dress, sitting at a table. She’s a brunette and her skin is an olive-bronze hue. It’s near dusk, but there’s still plenty of sunlight to see the tops of trees behind her — the patio overlooks a quiet street where the occasional car ambles by. I hear a man say, “sorriso,” and then she breaks into a smile.
I bounce around for an hour, watching moments with no context, save for they’re all happening now. In my hand is a real-time portal into the lives and mundanity of an endless (live-) stream of people.
This is Periscope.
The free iOS app (Android is coming soon) is intuitive and slick, and it’s now Twitter owned. The simple premise is anyone can log on and share live-streamed video. It can be publicly viewable, or just available to a group you choose. Viewers can tap on the video to “like” it — a little heart bubbles up and the more taps, the more heart, bubbling the video higher on the list of streams at the moment. And you can chat live with the viewers as well as the person doing the streaming.
Each video is tagged with a location — San Francisco, Jerusalem, Belfast, Boulder — and it can be saved on their servers for up to 24 hours if you want to refer back to it. And to hear the founders tell the story, the selling point is all about discovering the world, which is exactly what I was doing. From their website:
“Just over a year ago, we became fascinated by the idea of discovering the world through someone else’s eyes. What if you could see through the eyes of a protester in Ukraine? Or watch the sunrise from a hot air balloon in Cappadocia? It may sound crazy, but we wanted to build the closest thing to teleportation. While there are many ways to discover events and places, we realized there is no better way to experience a place right now than through live video. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but live video can take you someplace and show you around.”
It’s riveting. People all over the world, live-streaming, while I’m in my living room, life-surfing.
Yes, I’m keenly aware of how creepy this thing feels — like the 20-something dude-bro who is just streaming his girlfriend sleeping. At it’s best, Periscope is still a reminder that we’re all base voyeurs.
But there’s good to be had here. I watched three Indian girls in their late-teens/early 20s do a 10-minute AMA (Ask Me Anything), and they talked about life in New Dehli, giggled at inside jokes with each other and, aside from their dress, seemed like any other group of three young women.
Like maybe those three girls sitting at a booth a few tables away from you at your last brunch.