Why I Film One Second of My Life Every Day
For going on seven years, I’ve used the same 1 Second Everyday (1SE) app to record a nearly 37 minute long video montage of my life. It’s a project that’s now outlasted one relationship, five homes, and the lifespan of three cell phones.
I was first exposed to the idea by a colleague. With a clinical trial participant successfully hooked up to dozens of tiny electrodes and the prospect of watching yet another repeat hour of a silent, second-hand WALL-E, us lab grunts all assumed the familiar ‘waiting for something’ posture: phone in hand. An MD-PhD student, early in her research rotation at the time, asked if we wanted to see something. It was a captivating and personal video of her past month. Her daughter’s t-ball game, medical school classes, dinners with friends. I didn’t even need her eager pitch. I was hooked. The concept reminded me of one my favorite movies, Life in a Day, where crowdsourced footage from around the world is edited together to create a shockingly immersive and unifying mash up of a single day in 2010. (To commemorate the success of the project, a 2020 re-release hit YouTube in February 2021.) But instead of using 300 odd clips to illustrate a particular day, single seconds would document a person’s entire year.
Having a third-person view of my life has arguably become one of the most instrumental tools for my personal development. Nothing causes you to confront the aspects of yourself – those safe, unthinking routines and patterns that co-opt much of your time – faster than a commitment to record what you are paying attention to, the people you are with, the things you are doing. Every day. For a year. With a project like this there isn’t a lot of room for self-delusion.
Taking my phone out to record a brief video throughout the day has become a reflex at this point – combined with the monthly ritual of combing through the backstock of footage to make those daily selections. I’ve even come to treasure rewatching painful moments. Grief and loss from losing someone beloved. A painful ending to a friendship or intimate relationship. Disappointed dreams. It takes time and distance to appreciate, but I view many of these experiences of sadness as a gift.
Memory is prolix or overly sparing in turn, usually providing the opposite kind of detail I’d want in a situation. It’s remarkable how watching one flashing second after the next can trigger a flood of other memories. I rarely just remember the recorded moment. That one fall run where there were unexpectedly all these purple flowers everywhere. A beautiful mural I never noticed on a drive I make almost every week. A simple meal shared with friends. Moving and funerals and puppies and road trips sandwiched between rushed commutes and all encompassing make-or-break meetings. The scene primes a thousand other jump cuts through my day. Watching these videos makes me reflective of where I am and how far I have come. And committing to renew the effort each year is my attempt to remember more accurately and live more authentically.
Some other ways this project has impacted me:
- Better habits, especially those around reading, exercise, and food
- More tolerance and patience for bad days
- Deeper appreciation for time spent with family and friends
- Less preoccupation with work, particularly as a proxy for identity and self-esteem
- Reduced dissonance between the person I am and the person I’d like to be
- An increased openness to new experiences
- Gratitude for the small and seemingly insignificant moments
For further inspiration, see one of my all-time favorite Ted Talks by Cesar Kuriyama, the creator of 1SE. You can watch selections from the following years on my Other Projects page: 31 Years Old, 30 Years Old, 29 Years Old, 28 Years Old, 27 Years Old, 26 Years Old.