Casey Neistat Might Have Just Solved The Problem We Hadn’t Asked Him To Tackle

Casey Neistat might have inadvertently come up with the next tool to fix police brutality.

Aside: how do you pronounce Neistat? Is it French? Is it German? Is the “-stat” like, “stadt” or “-stat”, as in thermostat? Is that how to pronounce his name? (Casey, if for some reason, you see this, please forgive my ignorance).

As you can see, I know next to nothing about the dude. Apparently he has a YouTube channel? He writes stuff? He made an advert for Nike that Nike didn’t know about, but did know about, and in the end created a bunch of buzz and advertising for them? Maybe? I guess?

Sick shades, m8.
Sick shades, m8.

I’m over-exaggerating a bit. I’ve heard of Casey Neistat before, in part thanks to Sam Sheffer’s love for the guy and his creative mind. I saw him paint an Apple Watch gold, and one of the videos that’s been sitting in my “Watch Later” queue on YouTube is, ironically enough, Neistat talking about creativity. If anyone has claim to the title of “social media guru” (yuck: what an awful title), it would be Casey Neistat.

It was to no surprise then (or feigned surprise) when I woke up this morning to see that Neistat had released* his new app, Beme, to the general public. That’s released*, not released, because the * brings a few caveats: like last year’s mythical beast, the OnePlus One, Beme is running on a sort of “invite-only” release. It helps keep the size of the app and/or number of users manageable, and in the words of the creator himself, the first version “is still a hot mess”. In fact, he recommends grabbing the new version that releases next week, rather than jumping on the beta version. (Is this a beta? Is this an alpha? An omega? Another Greek letter to denote something? Who knows?!)

The premise of Beme is actually pretty cool. Neistat has a 3 minute video that you can watch, but the distilled version posits that social media, rather than being authentic and spontaneous, has become too cluttered and artificial; filters and canned expressions have taken away from something that was supposed to inject a spark of creativity into the mix.

Beme aims to change that. Taking on the “ephemeral” messaging idea that Snapchat pioneered, Beme has its users take their iDevices (sorry, Android friends ¯\_(ツ)_/¯), hold it over their heart, and the app begins recording for four seconds.

Four seconds. In that time, whatever’s in front of you is captured and sent out to the world/your followers, and they can send you snaps of themselves that act as responses to what you see. It’s an interesting concept: granted, the snap doesn’t have to be recorded from the chest – when the iPhone’s sensor is covered, it triggers something which triggers something which probably also triggers another thing and then bam, video recording happens.

(As you can see, I’m an expert on the art of app building in iOS.)

This is all well and good. There’s a sick market to be built here ,and I’m excited to see how Neistat and co. work with the app, especially if it comes to Android. But video messaging apps are multiple now: Snapchat, Periscope, Livestream, Instagram…it’s all there.

What Beme could do really well is change the face of police monitoring.

In the last few years, we’ve seen so much with regards to police brutality and minority violence, especially down south in the United States. Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin (among others) were all victims of the unfortunate reality that is institutionalized violence. It’s a problem deep rooted in the systematic divisions of American society, and if those socioeconomic divisions aren’t closely examined, then the violence is going to increase.

In the wake of the killings, many have come out and called for police to wear bodycams. Just recently, President Obama and co. provided funding to help regulate the use of bodycams. But it could be a long time before this type of solution is implemented. Police stations will probably push back against the regulations, and at any rate, it’s an expensive solution, one that will cost some money from someone’s pocket.

But what if witnesses to the Eric Garner’s and Michael Brown’s could see this kind of thing? What if the average bystander could, with an unobtrusive lift of their iPhone, start recording police brutality the moment it happens?

Hands Up, Don't Shoot
FERGUSON, MO – AUGUST 12: Demonstrators protest the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 12, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a police officer on Saturday in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. Ferguson has experienced two days of violent protests since the killing but, tonight’s protest was peaceful. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

You see what I’m getting at, don’t you? It’s Beme. This kind of app is just what people have been waiting for. It’s the solution to a problem that Neistat might not have even been envisioning when he came up with the idea. It’s the perfect app for vigilante justice, the best way to keep the police accountable for their actions when they go above their boundaries.

There’s just one problem, though. Currently, Beme records for only 4 seconds. As well, it’s only available in the Apple Store. Why? I’m not too sure. (Some have speculated that this is because the proximity sensor for iOS devices are all in the same place – for Android devices, the difference in sizes and unregulation of phone styles makes this a bit more complex, but I’m sure this can be worked around easily.) While not a programmer, I’m willing to bet that it won’t be long before someone figures out a hack around the 4 second time frame, however integral this is to Neistat’s vision. Suddenly, 4 seconds becomes 10 seconds. 30 seconds. Maybe even a minute. But that’s all it takes. 10, 20, 30 seconds of contextual video might be all it takes to tip the odds in favour of the victim of police brutality.

It doesn’t stop there. iPhones are a dime a dozen, arguably the most visibly recognizable device in the world. Kids and teens spend enough time on their phones already; you add in a street fight or a huge event gone bad, and everyone and their grandmother will be watching clips and remixes of the event somewhere on the Internet in a few hours. Maybe someone creates a hack to download video from Beme onto their device. Then you throw a hashtag on that. Trend it. Put it in the group message, too. Suddenly, an isolated incident, one that the community might not have said anything about (fearing retaliation from the police) becomes an incident that is seen across America. And in the end, Neistat’s vision still takes off: social media takes that event and transports it onto the devices of everyone in its most raw, unadulterated, and authentic form.

But hey. That’s just my opinion.

The author, no doubt frustrated because Beme isn't available on Android.
The author, no doubt frustrated because Beme isn’t available on Android.

You Don’t Plug Your Device In Every Night?

I am not a tech reviewer.

Also, I'm not a rapper.
Also, I’m not a rapper.

Consumer electronics, while a love of mine, aren’t things that I would actually write about. There’s a lot of information to discuss, and the learning curve is pretty high. Commenters are likely to crucify you if you make the slightest of errors, and God forbid that you compare a product to (the arguably, most successful) fruit-named brand, lest the internet rise up and riot against your ethics-in-journalistic-violations.

What I can talk about, though, is my experiences with technology, and how, as a daily user, I’m more likely to speak for the people who read the reviews than the reviewers who review them. This isn’t to discredit them, either: they all do their jobs incredibly well: there’s something to be said about the different methodologies and styles that the reviewers bring to the table.

Austin Nwachukwu is pretty cheesed about...something.
Austin Nwachukwu is pretty cheesed about…something.
Witty caption about MKBHD?
Witty caption about MKBHD?

Some of the “old hats” (The Verge, Android Authority, Engadget) talk about the tech from their perspective – elegant devices meant to better our lives, while the MKBHDs of the world make videos that “they’d want to watch”. The Austin Nwachukwu’s make videos that, while funny and informative, feel like actual tangible interactions: they’re things would actually ask someone who’s owned the device for some time. But for all these guys do, there’s still one thing they say that just irks me.

“This device only lasts a day with its battery.”

“Only a day”? Mate, what year is it? We are in 2015! It is the time of portable wireless chargers and swappable batteries! (Sorry, iDevice friends. You’ve still got battery-powered cases, though, right?)

It’s something that I’ve talked about before, but never really gotten worked up over, but after reading The Verge’s review of Sony’s new Xperia Z4 and hitting the line, “…I found myself disappointed by the Z4 Tablet’s battery life,” I had to pause, remove my glasses, and let out a high-pitched squeal before returning to the review. But alas, it kept going. Reviewer Vlad Savov continued:

The actual battery is no smaller (6,000mAh) than in the Xperia Z2 Tablet, but I’m having to recharge the newer device more often. I have to top up the Z4’s charge every couple of days, whether I use it or not. That’s somewhat unusual for tablets, which can last for multiple days when left idling. The Z4 Tablet still has decent battery life, but it’s not as impressive as, say, Google’s Nexus 9 or Apple’s latest iPads.

Bro, what?

BRO.

Here’s where I’m coming from on this issue. For the majority of the year, I’m a student. I’m up in the morning around 7, and I get home between 4:30 and 10:30 pm. During that time, my phone is kicking in my pocket, and while I usually don’t have sync notifications enabled, I’ll knock my battery out of the park with a bit of tweeting, a lot of Twitter, a lot of Snapchat, and browsing Reddit for some new dank memes. (As an aside, I love that phrase. Dank memes. Dank. Memes. It’s like, who comes up with this stuff? Who names this nonsense? God, I love the 21st century!)

Now, my “daily driver”, to use the technical terminology, was a OnePlus One – y’know, that mythical beast of cellular devices. Unfortunately, I broke it a week into owning it, so it was a pretty rough time getting around to replacing it. Currently, while that’s getting ready to get sent away for repairs, I’m sporting an LG G3. It’s sleek, it’s powerful, and it saps my battery like a motherfucker. (As an aside, if anyone’s got any ideas/ROMs/suggestions on improving this thing’s battery life, I’ll love you forever. Please. Pretty please. Thx.)

But that’s not all. I’ve also got a broken Nexus 7 in my room, and my primary note-taking device is a Galaxy Note 12.2. And if I was worried about batteries before, the battery on that latter tablet is an absolute champ. I can catch an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on the way to school, annotate my bio notes before/during class, write a short story during lunch, sweat over valence orbitals while at the campus bar with friends, and I’ll still sport at least 40% battery when getting home in the evening. Like I said, total beast.

BUT WAIT. THERE’S MORE.

I’ve got my laptop! It’s a Dell Inspiron something, and I’ve been meaning to upgrade it for god knows how long, but I just can’t bring myself to pull the trigger. It’s dope, though, and does the job well. But the thing is, it’s not a MacBook Air/Pro, and that means that the battery is incredibly disappointing, so that forces me to carry my charger around too. I don’t mind; my charger doesn’t take up space in my bag. If anything, as long as it extends the life of my device, it’s a good call to make.

“But Kobe,” you say. “You’re not in summer school, right? What are you doing right now?”

Glad you asked.

Currently, I’m doing a summer job. It’s a contract gig, and it’s money in my pocket, but it means that from 9-5 (okay, fine, 8:30-4:30), I’m at a computer sweating over Google Analytics data or in meetings or with a camera around my neck, taking photos at a few different locations. But that’s the thing: most of the time, I’m by a computer.

This is where my beef with reviewers comes in, though. For a huge part of my life, I am by a device with a charging port. Or a wall outlet. There is no time of day where I’m not near a way to top up a device of mine. This isn’t just a “me” thing – I’ve seen plenty of students with myriads of different devices during my time at school doing the exact same thing. You’ve got the kid in study hall who’s got his Nexus plugged into a wall outlet, or the girl who rushes for a wall seat in the lecture to make sure her iPhone doesn’t run out of juice in the meanwhile. And do NOT get me started on the frat bro who’s got his smartwatch charging on a cradle somewhere. Dude. Come on.
It’s ridiculous. Really, we should be asking ourselves why manufacturers aren’t abandoning their quest to give us thinner devices and instead, working on giving us bigger batteries. I don’t care that your phone is now thinner-by-the-width-of-my-credit-card: I just want to know if I can see Barcelona’s Snap Story before my battery dies before lunch.

But more importantly, why in the world would I keep my devices uncharged, overnight, for multiple days? It’s absurd! You know how awful it is to wake up and realize that rather than having a battery of 100%, my device is kicking at 40%? You know what that means? I’ve got to actually listen to music on my iPod that day, and not through Spotify! It’s 2015, not 2007 – I can’t go back to those days!

What Doc Brown said.
What Doc Brown said.

Personally, I just hate seeing that my devices aren’t at 100% when I wake up. I wish wireless charging was more of a big deal, actually – it’d be pretty darn convenient to just drop them there and crash, rather than stumbling in the dark to plug them in. But hey, sue me, right? Actually. Don’t. I’m not the only one who plugs in their stuff the night before, and even if I don’t, my lifestyle isn’t so much of an outlier that I’m the only one who has access to topping up my devices if they’re dying midway through the day.

Look. At the end of the day, these reviewers are doing their jobs in the best way they know how. For the most part, they do it well, and the great thing about disagreeing with them is that for lack of capital and a domain name, there’s nothing stopping you from doing your own thing. You wanna review things for a niche audience, or do unboxing videos? Go right ahead! But tech fam. Please. It is 2015. Let’s stop pretending that you wake up, unplug your tablet, and then leave it lying around for three or four days until it’s drained of battery. You’re a little bit like me. You’ve got a little bit of me inside you.

Pause.
Pause.

Don’t tell me you don’t plug your device in every night.

Stop Being Afraid to Create

I’ve been doing this writing thing for about 8 years now, but I’ve been ~seriously~ doing it for the last four or five. In that time, I’ve easily hit over 20,000 words, a few small essays, and made my fair share of mistakes to make me cringe and shudder when looking over old pieces. In that time, though, the biggest mistake I’ve made hasn’t been forgetting to fact check or not using the Oxford comma: hell, my biggest mistake wasn’t even double spacing after starting a new sentence. (Who does this? Where did I learn it? More importantly, who made me continue this and didn’t beat it out of me?)

My biggest mistake, by far, has been not writing enough.

There was a period in my grade 12 year of high school where I wrote for 20 uninterrupted minutes everyday. I’m not sure how long I was able to keep this up for: if I recall correctly, it lasted for ~about~ a month and a half. The anatomy of the 20 minutes looked something like this:

00:00-02:00 – Begin writing. Erase whatever sentences or prompts I’d began with. Do this repeatedly for about five or six times.
02:00-05:00 – Contemplate shutting down the 20MAD (20 Minutes a Day) project I’d given myself. Aimlessly write sentences now, some of which don’t really relate to each other. Begin scanning around my room for inspiration.
05:00-07:00 – Open up iTunes and cobble together a really quick playlist. It’s a smart playlist, of course. It should last 20 minutes, be a healthy mix of all my most played/top rated tracks, and there must be one song from the Man of Steel OST in it. It’s just the way it goes.
07:00-18:00 – Suddenly, inspiration has hit. Somehow or another, I am in beast mode. I am Kerouac. I am Mark Twain. I am Langston Hughes resurrected in glorious splendor, and my writing is fantastic, articulate, and expressive. I make no mistakes. I am the Literary God, Creator of Mythical Worlds and Settings, and anyone in my presence would swoon at the intense expression on my face, no doubt due to my horrendous posture and sudden need to go to the washroom.
18:00-19:00 – Shoot. Oh no. I have a minute left. I’m running out of time. I have to wrap this up. How do I wrap this up? Beginning, middle, ending, climax, I haven’t even got there yet! What do I do? This is insane! I need an hour and a half, at minimum! I can’t just stop what I’m doing. Which asinine individual came up with this writing thing, anyway? God.
19:00-20:00 – Well, that’s it. Time to save. What do I save this as? Will I come back to it? Can I edit? Okay, quick edits. Seriously? I misspelled “incredulous”? The hell? Alright. That’s enough editing. Let’s publish this. Wait up. What do I tag it as? Do I want people to read this stuff? Is the “prose” tag even used by people here? I’ll go with the “creative writing” one. Yeah. People must check that all the time.

That was my process. I’d do that, every day, usually before bed, for a month or two. I’d post it, tag it, and then wake up to see my post had gotten hundreds of hits and shares.

That’s a lie. It was never that many. Usually, I’d be lucky if I hit 10 likes/reblogs.

But through it all, I learned something about myself. Of course, I wasn’t really seeing it at the time, but it was in hindsight that I realized that forcing myself to write, no matter how shitty or pretentious it was and felt at the beginning, was the best way to improve my writing. Even now, I look back at a few of the shorts and one-offs that I created back in 2013 and smile because to me, it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done. At all.

Somewhere along the way, though, writing began to suck. Chalk it up to a rotten English class or a frustrating experience with writing or just any combination of variables, but I stopped seriously writing for a long time. Long pieces, short pieces, album reviews: I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d used to. Even now, writing this, I’m struggling to keep going because of the biggest emotion that kept me from writing like I used to: what’s the point?

There’s so many people writing to promote themselves and advertise their stuff. You’ll never be good enough. You’ll never win a FIFA Ballon D’Or. You’ll never score with your right foot, or your left foot. Expressing yourself is so dumb – just get that science degree, make everyone happy, live that life. It’s easy. It’s safe. A life of creation is hard to do and unstable and requires way too much of an investment with an unstable and volatile payoff. It’s just not worth it.

These thoughts kept me down for a long time. I had no inspiration (I hate this excuse, but that’s for another day). It’s a shame, really, because the best time to have been writing would have been in those dumps, those downtimes.

You see, no one tells fledgling writers that lacking inspiration is as much a part of the creative process as the days where you’re manic and high and running on a thousand ideas. No one pulled us aside when we were starting up Sunset Rising and told us that there would be days where we’d want to quit, want to give up, want to do the regular type of job that had a “steady” role and “stable” employment. You learn about the rules of grammar and when to break them, you learn what makes a fantastic headline or how to properly shoot video for a news piece, but nobody ever breaks it to you that writing is an up and down process. It’s something that a lot of us writers learn on our own, and once you do, it becomes a whole lot easier to deal with the down days.

What comes next? You’re in the trenches. You’ve got a bit of anxiety. Okay, so you haven’t written a blog post or an article in weeks, and you haven’t shot video or done an edit or touched InDesign in months. What happens now? Where do you go?

It’s simple. You sit at your computer. You pick up the camera. You open your journal, and you begin creating again. You do it for 10 minutes, maybe even 15. But that’s all it takes. And then the next day, you repeat it. And the next. And the next. You go on and on until the process of creating turns from a chore into a welcome part of your day, and in some cases, goes on to rule and run your day. You keep going until you’re back to where you were before, back when you pumped out creations like hot cakes.

Laughter also works for creating things.

I’m not there yet. It’s one thing to sit here and bang out 1400 words to some face on the other end of an Internet connection about how good and liberating it is to get back into the creative process. It’s another thing completely to be able to hit that stage, though, and do it consistently.

But I’m working on it. I’m getting better. Last week had me do four hours of research and four hours of writing, and that manifested itself into two pieces I was really proud of. I’m not sure how that’ll go over time. I want to believe that it’ll continue, and the up trend will continue going up. But I’m no fortune teller. I can’t call the shots on that. All I can do is trust in the creative process, and when it fails me, get into the mud with it and force it to churn something gross and disgusting out. And again. And again. And maybe, one day, instead of giving me 500 words that equate to shit, it gives me 700 words that are kinda dope. Or maybe it’s 200 words that are really well spoken and precise. But maybe, just maybe, I get that magical 10,000 essay that’s well researched and well developed.

Trust the creative process. Embrace it, and don’t be afraid to fail every now and then.