I didn't think much of Periscope, a new app that lets users make instant live video streams from their phones, when I first downloaded it. I mean, don't get me wrong: I used it. I made a couple of incredibly boring streams taking my friend's dog for a walk (she's adorable, but she doesn't pander to my social media efforts) and one from the back of a cab in New York (great city, but the thing about livestreaming is that you can't predict how many trucks will block your view of the skyline).
But I didn't get excited about Periscope until a few nights ago, when one of the few users I'm following started a new stream.
It was from retired astronaut and social media darling Chris Hadfield, and he was playing some guitar before bed.
I opened up the livestream and there he was: Warm, friendly Chris Hadfield playing an impromptu bedtime concert for hundreds of people. Hadfield is a great musician (he's working on an album at present), so it was a pretty chill way to spend 15 minutes of my evening. But for most of the viewers, the promise of a lullaby isn't what had made them click: It was the promise of an intimate, live gathering with Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut who delighted people on Earth with endless videos and tweets about his life as commander of the International Space Station.
In addition to his musical performances, which are fairly frequent, Hadfield has been holding impromptu lessons about spaceflight for his followers. In one video, he told us about the functions of different parts of a spacesuit. Users can comment in real time, and responses varied -- "Hello from Ontario!" one commenter piped, prompting Hadfield to issue a greeting in return. Another user simply said that they had never realized how complicated spacesuits were. Others asked quite technical questions.
"It's right across the board, of course," Hadfield told The Post. "It's like going up to a group of people at a family reunion and saying, 'Hey, everybody, I'm gonna explain how a spacesuit works!' So some of the questions are very technical, and some are very prosaic -- and it's kind of lovely."
For Hadfield, who got access to Periscope during its beta testing period a few weeks ago, finding the best uses for the app has been a real treat.
"[My son] Evan and I think really carefully about social media, so when we saw this we asked ourselves what it was going to be good for . . . what kind of story would it help tell," Hadfield said. "And I just imagined what it would be like if Michelangelo had been able to put his iPhone next to his palate while he painted the Sistine Chapel, or set it behind him while he hammered David. Imagine watching him choose his paint colors and where to put down his chisel."
Hadfield may not be painting any chapels at the moment, but he keeps that vision in mind when he uses the app: What's something that's rare to see live and almost impossible to see in person? What things are better explained in short, intimate videos than in any other form?
He brought up another space-related stream as an example, one where he showed off a space-shuttle piece that now graces his bookshelf.
"Most people don't even think about the bolts that hold a space shuttle on the launch pad," he said, "But it's incredible when you think about it — the incredible power and size and thrust of a shuttle about to launch, and just eight bolts hold it down. And then that very powerful thing ends up on my bookshelf. It's not exactly worth a documentary, but it's an interesting little insight."
At the end of the video, he introduced his pet pug Albert — which is a good way to sum up his casual, informal tone overall.
His videos about being an astronaut are as informative as the ones he once made from aboard the International Space Station, but now they have a strangely poignant sense of urgency and intimacy.
"It's definitely very intimate," Hadfield said. "And sure, it's not without risk — if you inadvertently have a slip of the tongue or say something embarrassing, you're broadcasting live and at your own peril."
But he's not all that worried.
"We have to kind of get over ourselves," he said. "If a thousand people were in a hall with you, you wouldn't be nearly as embarrassed, I think . . . so I try to think about it in the same way."
He'll keep educating the masses and singing them to sleep, and he's excited to see how the app and its audience evolves. He's already run into a big question: If he covers someone else's music during a livestream, is it copyright infringement? For now, he's sticking to his own tunes to be safe.
"Whenever new tech is invented, people have to hurry to figure out how it'll fit into existing laws and rules," Hadfield said. But he's not too concerned about whether he'll ever play "Space Oddity" during his evening performances. "The important thing is the sharing," Hadfield said. "I'm always intrigued by technology that lets us share our thoughts and knowledge and experiences with each other — and we need as much of that as we can get."