Design Indaba – Friday – Shih-ichi Takemura

Takemura was for me the most interesting speaker of the day:

He started his talk by playing a sound of water dripping. He introduced himself and started speaking – and then explained that the sound is a real time feed of a water feature in a temple in Kyoto. We were listening -admittedly with some latency – to water dripping into a ceramic vessel thousands of kilometers away in Japan. He called this a “internet stethoscope”

This talk resonated with me as I have been thinking a lot about the way in which technology seems to be separating people rather than connecting them. What exactly is happening when we have a video of a speaker at our graduation ceremony? Or the way in which one is supposed to ask questions to the speakers at the Indaba – send an SMS to the relevant number. Why not just stand up and speak to them?

He showed us so many projects – here is an example: Tangible Earth

Its essentially a spherical screen on which is mapped data about earth at a scale of 10 million : 1. The data includes – the current real time light of the sun, the position of clouds, sea currents and temperature, seismic activity, deforestation, migration paths of animals and much more.

There is a device which acts as a magnifying glass, and allows you to inspect the bit of the globe you are examining, showing, for example, images of the Tsunami disaster, or the path of migrating birds.

This project is profound on so many levels – from the realization that at this scale, our atmosphere is only 1 mm thick, to the manner in which atmospheric pollution does not recognize the borders of countries – to the fact that one cannot see the borders of countries.

In all the projects he showed us – from the website that tracks sunset and sunrise across the globe based on uploads of photos to flicker, to “global windows” which allow one to interact with live video feeds of children in 3rd world countries – there is an underlying theme of the importance of sharing the simple feelings of ordinary life.

“Our sensibilities are far from being global”.

“We need a system to help us monitor the dynamism of the globe”

He highlights the vulnerability of urban society, constantly referring to ecological threats, and the seismic activity of the earth.

He refers to a image of the earth as our “self portrait” .

There were so many projects –

A “Sakura Front” project that tracks the advance of the cherry blossoms opening accross japan, using uploaded images from cell phones and allows one access to the haiku’s written about the blossoms.

A vending machine in which one pays with chips representing the amount of water that went into the manufacture of the food you chose. A hamburger = 20000 l

A ubiquitous museum project in which your cellphone is used to gather information about the surrounding city

Shin-Ichi Takemura spoke softly. In contrast to the other speakers, he did not have the stage presence or fluency to hold the audience’s attention. But what he spoke about – the simple, directness of his ideas, the urgency of his topic was what mattered.

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