24 February 2007

Sacred tech [Business Week]

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A group of children hold hands around the Harijan Pillar in the Eternal Gandhi Multimedia Museum
When I met Ranjit Makkuni now over five years ago at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, I became immediately mesmerised by his approach to technology and culture and the work he has been doing. This has only grown since.

Makkuni is not only building bridges between technology and traditional, spiritual cultures, but also creating new paradigms for modern computing (based on the aesthetics of developing nations) and making new links between technological interfaces and the body, by an emphasis on the sense of touch, texture, gesture and craft.

So I am very delighted that David Womack featured Makkuni’s thinking and work in the latest issue of Business Week:

Former senior researcher at Xerox PARC, Ranjit Makkuni is using sophisticated technology to change how we interact with computers. In the process, he’s taking traditional Indian beliefs back to the future.

Makkuni spent nearly two decades as a senior researcher at the legendary Xerox PARC in Palo Alto, California, where he was part of a team widely credited with developing the first GUI, or graphical user interface; he then went on to break new ground in tactile interfaces. Now, Makkuni has returned to his native India and founded the Sacred World Foundation, an organization whose mission is to revolutionize interaction between humans and computers by bringing together the ancient traditions of India and the innovations of Silicon Valley. […]

Much of Makkuni’s research is focused on freeing us from what might be called the modern posture: slumped with belly sagging, eyes restlessly scanning the screen, fingers twitching on computer keys. This posture is a result of the western paradigm in which data comes in through the eyes, makes a loop through the head, and exits through the mouth or fingers. We might as well be brains in jars, at least for the duration of the workday. In many eastern traditions, however, it is believed that intelligence is distributed throughout the body, and that thinking and moving are inextricably connected. […]

Makkuni’s largest project to date is the Eternal Gandhi Multimedia Museum, which opened in March 2005 at Birla House in New Delhi, the site where Mahatma Gandhi spent the last few months of his life and where he was assassinated in 1948. The goal of the exhibition is to bring Gandhi’s message to a new generation by engaging them both intellectually and physically. […]

By showing that traditional practices can help to inform modern technology, Makkuni is challenging the conventional wisdom of the country’s elite, who often see traditional beliefs as a barrier to modernization.

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Visit the Sacred World Foundation
Visit The Crossing Project
Visit the Ethernal Gandhi Multimedia Museum

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