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October 11, 2005

Design and risk

Doors of Perception Report
Quick Scan of Design and Innovation
By John Thackara
11 October 2005

My design-and-fear index is roaring along. Googlng "design' and
"homeland security" yields a score today of 11.5 million - that's up
one million in just a month, and up ten million compared to a year
ago. Fear-based design has now been awarded the ultimate cultural
accolade: an exhibition next week at MoMA in New York. 'SAFE: Design
Takes On Risk' is the first major design exhibition at MoMA since its
reopening in November 2004. Curator Paola Antonelli has gathered
together more than 300 contemporary products and prototypes that are
"designed to protect body and mind from dangerous or stressful
circumstances, respond to emergencies, ensure clarity of information,
and provide a sense of comfort and security.These objects address the
spectrum of human fears and worries, from the most mundane to the
most exceptional, from the dread of darkness and loneliness to the
threat of earthquakes and terrorist attacks".

MoMA have very right to bring this stuff to our attention, but one
thing is clear: The design of products to protect people from
terrorism is a short-term solution that won't work. Indeed a focus on
hardware, if it deflects attention from the human causes of violence,
is likely to make things worse in the long-term. In an important
pamphlet from Demos called 'Hearts and Minds: Human Security
Approaches to Political Violence', Scilla Elworthy and Gabrielle
Rifkind argue that much more is known about how to reduce and prevent
violence than public figures (and the homeland security industry)
acknowledge."A careful analysis of the root causes of political
violence reveals the persistent influence of powerlessness,
exclusion, trauma, and humiliation. Approaches to terror, political
violence and insurgency must take human security as their starting
point". Should, but don't: France, the UK, Russia and the US account
for 78 percent of all global exports of conventional weapons.

How 'natural' are natural disasters? Large losses of life, and
destruction of homes and infrastructure, are regular features of
floods and hurricanes in many parts of the less developed world. The
latest, brilliantly-timed issue of Design Philosophy Papers points
out that for people, at last, these are not natural disasters at all.
They are the outcome of risky forms of settlement by large numbers of
people whose choices are limited by history and economic
circumstance. The result: More people are made refugees as a result
of the changing environment than by war or poltical conflict. In this
context, is it time to stop perceiving homeless people as a minority
underclass? Might not more of us become bums, hobos, tramps, beggars,
street kids, bag ladies, tramps and the like as climate conditions
degrade? If that happens, the survivial skills of the despised may
become highly valued.

If you: a) possess a copy of 'In The Bubble'; and/or b) have read it;
and c) found any errors in it (names, typos, dead urls etc) ...then
please let me know. MIT Press is reprinting the book and need my
corrections by 28 October. I will give a free signed copy of the
paperback edition (due out next Spring) to anyone who tells me about
a mistake they have found. Email please to: john@doorsofperception.com

This annual festival for art and new technology in Trondheim, Norway,
is hosted this year by our friends Alan J Munro and Rob van
Kranenburg. Matchmaking, whose theme this year is "soft freedom", is
the only event of its kind in Norway. It's a great place to make new
alliances and projects in the (especially Nordic) art and media
scene. 17 - 23 October 2005. Trøndelag Centre of Contemporary Arts/
Bybroen Scene.

Does tourism kill the toured? An unexpected overnight in Barcelona a
week ago reminded me that cities should be be careful what they wish
for. Barcelona is the most-quoted example in the world of a city that
has used design and creativity to make itself attractive to tourists.
But having come in their hordes, they are eating the place alive. On
the Ramblas, Spanish families trying to stroll slowly with children
were jostled by gangs of drunken Easyjet Brits on their way to party.
Carbon emissions are not the only damaging by-product of tourism.

Google has offered to build San Francisco-wide a free wifi network.
Google say San Francisco residents and visitors will enjoy a free 300
kilobits per second, always on connection anywhere in the city. "San
Francisco will be a true test bed for location based services and
applications," said Chris Sacca, principal of new business
development at Google.

Uffe Elbaek, founder and energiser of Kaos Pilots business school in
Denmarkhas been invited by Ode Magazine to talk about the changes in
the world and the new ways of organisation to deal with those
changes. www.theprojectnetwork.nl

Applications are invited for the upcoming cycle of fellowships
supported by Sarai and the Centre for the Study of Developing
Societies 9 in Delhi. http://www.sarai.net

Three eminent researchers discuss designing as form of research in
this symposium in Delft (The Netherlands) on November 10. Brenda
Laurel, Gillian Crampton-Smith, and Kun-Pyo Lee will look at the ways
design generates knowledge which can be used beyond the product at
hand and thereby generate wholly new ideas. The event is hosted by
the Technical University of Delft. Thursday November 10. Contact:
Pieter Jan Stappers: p.j.stappers@io.tudelft.nl

I remain eager to learn about real and useful applications for
nanotechnology to explain the zillions being invested in its reseach.
This one-day seminar on new surfaces for architecture, furniture, and
design may begin to meet that need, but I can't help noticing that
the German words for "will" outnumber the words for "is" by a large
margin. An eye for tiny detail presumably explains, too, why the
price is 410 euros. 27 October, Saarbrücken.

Usman Haque and Aether Architecture were commissioned to develop a
suite of low-tech sensors and actuators using electronic children's
toys and gadgets as a source; (they can be hacked for their
constituent parts). The idea was to enable artists and architects to
develop interactive spaces and objects quickly and cheaply. One
outcome of the project was an instruction manual of sorts - a
manifesto for low-tech that functions also as a conceptual framework
for complex interactive systems.

Andrew Otwell writes to ask "how green is the greening of Apple?"
proclaimed by Steve Jobs. Jobs was quoted in The Guardian as saying
that "one automobile is, I'm sure, greater in impact than 100,000
iPods. The one part of consumer electronics that you have to worry
about is the battery". I don't know what the environmental impact of
a single ipod is, but Paul Hawken (in his book Natural Capitalism)
wrote memorably that the amount of waste matter generated in the
manufacture of a single laptop is close to four thousand its weight
in your lap.

Where is the money for a carbon neutral economy to come from? The
transition to a renewable/clean/low carbon energy and resource
efficiency economy will require massive investment. A seminar in
Brussels will pool knowledge about public-private partnerships,
capital risk, venture concepts, and other opportunities for the
financial services sector in the realm of eco-innovation and
eco-technologies. October 14, Brussels

Radio Forest is a radio station, located in a forest in Neerpelt,
Belgium, that broadcasts onto a local highway, such that cars can
tune in to the sounds of trees when they pass by.

The new edition of Dutch architecture magazine Archis (which is now
published jointly with AMO, the research arm of Rem Koolhaas's design
office) includes a diatribe against people who travel to conferences
around the world to talk about global warming, design and
sustainability, and asks such people to "ponder on the critical
question: whether you are an environmentalist, an ecologist, or a
hypocrite". Read on at:

Posted by Webtic at October 11, 2005 10:59 AM