JP:The same with the potter, the material is shaped by him and he is shaped by the material and so on.
CN: Can you elaborate on the feedback that the material gives you? We experience it and we judge it. How does it work?
JP: In an early phase in our life we are marking labels for different materials and associating them with different qualities and attributes. For instance you have clay. A particular kind of clay, which will resort in a particular object, it has a particular kind of fragility. Clay has its own attributes in terms of how it would behave. That is its basic set of material values. When I use the material and hold it in my hand, it becomes present in that moment. And I learn to understand that this is what fragility means; this is what slightly more fragile might mean; this is crisp and fragile; this is soft and fragile; this makes sound and is fragile. These are all very fine distinctions one can make. Potters looking for raw material, just pick it up, they smell it, press it, say OK or perhaps not, perhaps to much of silicon, but it has got this and this, than they go on to some other place. And so this conversation between the potter and the clay goes on to find the right material for the object they have in mind. It is a constant thing that an artisan has with any material.
CN: Can you transpose this to someone who works with technology?
JP: Perhaps it does not work in a sensory sense, with hands and so on. But you could use the concept in an abstract sense that this is very light. Like we would use the idea of a website, a 2 K website is very light website as against 1 MB website which has lots of information etc.
CN: When an artisan works with material perception changes through the material, what we can think is possible changes. In the feedback with the material artisans use all senses. In any craft there is a value chain of senses, in one heat will be more important in another sound, but they all use them. Do you think that when we perceive of a light website, does it change us as well?
JP: We do not sense it in the same way as that we hold something light as against something heavy. The language is being used, but the real association is not the same. It is light in terms, that it does not have too much information on it, but the way to sense it is different.
CN: Do you have an idea how we sense technology? For instance the mobile phone how has it changed you?
JP: I think it fundamentally changes you in so many different ways. One of the most important ways that it changes you is that you do not have to make decisions. You do not have to decide where you go, where the address is, how long it will take to get there, have you got the details right, do you have map? In some basic ways it changes you. You do not make final decision anymore, which you had to make before you set out to go.
CN: The craftsman is very now and here. Time is there all the time. He can not postpone. But we with our mobile phone, when we are in crises we can also not postpone? Are we using skill by using mobile phones?
JP: Yes, I think so. I use my mobile phone much more than I use my laptop even for keying basic text, because I have been quite dexterous with my fingers, I feel comfortable and I use that skill and it invites me to use that skill.
CN: How do you mean?
JP: The reference of taste is there, the memory is there and the missing is very strong. Those are values we must meet and for instance we should meet once a year or twice a year and if that is not possible than we have to invent new ways of meeting where we perhaps connect at levels and values that are more engaging than they are right now. The medium is still secondary for me because I do not get that quality experience that I could have in a community. It has to grow.
You told me that the current students you are teaching are more complicated people because they live in many worlds already. Is quality a property of centeredness?
JP: That is a very good question. I often wonder about it. Is this my idea of quality? Am I defining it narrowly, can it be timeless? But when you work with communities that have been practicing something for over 2000 years continuously and they have a particular way of doing things, not too many words in their vocabulary, extremely rich sensual relationships, everything one would dream of in a community is there. And I ask myself what are the core things? Why is it together? Can I take anything from here and try and see whether it can be created elsewhere? It was from that sense that I was looking at the complicatedness of the youth. It just seems that they have so much fragmentation, they seem to be spread apart in many ways, many, many directions, apart in many identities, many moments they want to be in... and I hope I do not come across as being very judgemental about it, this is the way I look at it. Maybe that is the material of now, the conditions that exist around them.
CN: If quality is a property of centeredness and on the other hand in the new technologies this sense of quality is not developed yet - there is not enough complexity, diversity, scale, absence of senses - it is very hard to make centeredness?
JP: I would go along with that. Because for me centeredness is critical largely because it finds a common centre for the body, mind, soul business, otherwise they just stay like compartments each working independently and that leads to all kinds of complications and you can see that in our lives now.
CN: Sunil tells the story that because of his life online he knows more stories and he knows them first hand, and because of all these stories he knows more perspectives, which makes me a more generous person. So there is also a new openness.
JP: Yes depending on who you are as a primary person. Sunil has been like that. I do not know if the stories opened him up. He is a different person. It could also be the other way around. If essential grounding had not happened in which you locate the stories, perhaps you would be split apart. I have been witness of three days of the direct telecast of the events in Bombay and I was sitting here in Bangalore in the chill out. It was very interesting to see, I wanted to see it with the community, partly because I think this kind of situation hardens attitudes, people basically say 'Lets go to war with Pakistan'. Which is ridiculous. Also in Pakistan there are people who are having war with terrorism. We need to create a shared ownership of this problem. I look at it like this, but when you are witnessing this shoot out, and none of us had seen this before, and they are different people there in the chill out, the kinds of judgements and opinions that are building while seeing this, it is not that people's minds are becoming more mild or generous, compassionate or so. And the same opinions that I use for my thing, but it is also going elsewhere, it is also leading to hardening of people and the closing of the mind.
CN: Lets say we agree that the grounding is essential for being able to be a good witness both of the material as well as of other people. For stories to have impact you need a good grounding. This resonates with all insights in psychology. Grounding is essential for any human being to function towards well-being and survival. From your experience I understand that in this grounding the interaction with material is very important. Even if schools forgot about it, to create the references is very important. As long as the Internet does not offer that place of quality, the reference is even more important. If I write to you in three months and say I would love a cup of coconut soup at Koshy's, you will laugh wherever you will be. My question is how strong does the experience of the reference have to be? Maybe one experience is enough for a 100 references. If we talk about this experience of reference, do we need to renew the original experience of the reference after having used it a hundred times as a reference? So how far can we push the boundary in the representation?
JP: I think it works like this perhaps. You have an experience of quality and then it opens up something inside you and you locate it there. Than a hunger begins to have similar quality experience of something else and you search for it until you find it. What happens is this: a quality experience creates a search in you to look for quality experiences in other areas of life as well. What would be those? And if I am not very well skilled, food is something we can all have an experiences of quality with because our senses are still alive, and food is by the way the only experience besides lovemaking where we use all our senses, that is the real experience, everything else becomes something else, it is more idea based. So it does open this question up in a nice way and than you can begin to look for it.
CN: How often can you represent it? Endless? One experience is enough? So we give children 10 basic quality experiences and than make reference to these the rest of their lives?
JP: No, you make reference to what you could be looking for. You shape the search.
CN: How do time and place influence the essence of quality? The artisan originally was witness to the use of his work. The artisan would share time and place with the users of his or her work. Now people make things and do not see how it is used?
JP: Artisans themselves may not give you the same articulation as I will, because they have not looked into this in such a way. But of course it is the compact of the two. We kept the quality of soup because the chef knows that there is an appreciation of it. The day the appreciation goes somewhere else, the quality if the soup would go down. And it is beginning to happen in craft. Craft had its very own consequential: artisan made something, person used it, the problem was immediately told, person improved, he became a better craftsperson. There was an immediacy to it. Now it is reduced to the idea of a market, what is selling, suddenly the numbers come, and statistics come in. So with this whole concept of market, abstract concept of market, in one of my projects we try them to come to market and sell, to see and try to have a dialogue with the users. But it is like a drop in the ocean. The level at which this should happen is very different.
CN: For a designer not being there where an object is used, changes the development of quality of this object. Lets now take the complete other side, the disaster: when you smell that the air is bad, the water is wrong. We also use our senses to know when we have to flee or to fight. There is also skill in that. Does the crises side have the same qualities? In terms of senses and also in terms of representation?
JP: I think in several of these communities you live by your wits end. You live by your senses. You smell a danger, you smell this or that. And than there are periodic disasters, whether it are floods, draught and people are constantly surviving with their senses, finding camp, whether you can drink the water or not and people are making mistakes and that creates disasters as well. It is being used, particularly in migrant communities they constantly have to adapt their references where to get water, how to find your way. They do it with their senses. Largely they are in areas where they do not know the languages, a totally alien environment and so on.
CN: Trial and error?
JP: Trial and error, purely by senses.
CN: But also analysis, pattern recognition?
O yes, very sharp. It is like being migrant and you just arrive in Delhi and you don't have anything, so you start looking for someone who speaks a language you might recognize your language, put you into contact with other people who speak so, and immediately ask whether there is something I can do, where is the job and so on. I once studied this particular aspect of how migrants survive in Delhi, arrive at the station, make first things happen, make nests like birds and immediately look for where the next job is. Similarly in Bombay after the attacks, people have no other choice than to become normal again, got to get back in earning situation. When disaster happens, get on with it.
When you are poor, you have nothing and of course you then need a mobile phone first. It is more important to have a mobile phone for the poor person. It can generate work. And of course new strategies are invented like giving 'missed calls'. It does not cost money, I get a missed call and ill know that such and such person has arrived home. And maybe this person will give me two missed calls and I know he will be late, etc.
CN: Lets move to another area to explore. How does intention influence my interaction with the material? How does intention change from craft to technology context? When people witness each other they also judge intentions?
JP: As a designer I was changing intention in the projects I did. As a designer I would know the market better and so on. But there is a larger trusting thing in the same projects as well. People were questioning me being a witness. Why is he asking this? What is his interest? What do we get out if it? Checking stories, it is a trade of, be it in the practice of artisan or a computer programmer.
CN: Is intention different when you work with biological, social or technological material?
JP: The idea of service design brings in some of the values of the material to this. I was designing this project of story telling by the grandmothers for the larger Indian diaspora that is scattered over the planet. The grandmothers would tell stories to the child while connecting in real time. The telling of the story would be an actual experience, a real telling of story, a certain sensuality and spontaneity and several aspects of quality of story telling can be transmitted across the new materials of technology. So there I see new kinds of service design and they need to be formed well with real interesting forms.
CN: So as a child I will get an impression of the intention of the grandmother, will she comfort me when I am scared? I will find out about her kindness for example.
JP: When the grandmother was telling stories, we were anyway sleeping, half sleeping. That whole state was not a state of being fully alert, conscious or rational, or asking questions if she really is my grandmother, your grandmother. It was the general idea of 'grandmother', which could be any lady who spoke with certain quality.
CN: Can you imagine this kind of quality of attributes of just the machine, a car or search engine or agent?
JP: I think it is possible to do it. I myself have been designing things for the car. Everybody customizes a car. After the car is delivered you create your own cushions, you have your own sounds, your music, you have your smells, in India of course you make a small temple in the car, so you actually carry the same smell of the home into the car. And we do that where we create a similar kind of presence. Even if it is an alien object you do this.
CN: But the spirit of the car itself?
CN: So you say that personalizing is actually 'tuning'?
JP: Yes very much so. It is really entering a threshold.
CN: Last question is about the autonomous system, the machine that acts by itself. Can you imagine it has witnessed presence?
JP: Yes, I can imagine. As long as it reveals to me it has a witnessed presence in the sense it has been to those places and has these ideas I am looking for now. That reference is important. It is like meeting a person who really has it in him or in her and has a personal experience that is been told. Something that is rich and large on the body. We see in the class when there are so many students and immediately you know who is the one who is faking it and who is someone who is genuinely trying to do it, there are so many types and you actually know.
CN: So what do you need to recognize the machine, its time, place, and actions?
JP: It will recognize me and anticipate me. The way we do things with objects, often the most comfortable objects are those, which do not always want you to adapt to them. They provide at least 50% invitation that is already ready for you. It is a bit like shaking hands with someone who is not even extending an arm. There has got to be a 50% invite at least. There has got to be that kind of aspect in an object that it is 'I am willing to make half the move'. That is an encouraging sign that at least it knows my certain basic things and already is taking these into account and not again ask me in a manner that often templates ask you, like 'how may I help you?'
CN: Do you need to know how it works, whether is has been there for 100 years, do you need to know where it is?
JP: At some stage that could be quite interesting, but it is not part of user values that I have to buy it for. But it would make a difference, it locates another kind of a calendar in me and that is interesting. It is like the ring I wear, it is iron and made exactly the way it was made 2000 years ago. The fact that I connect to people 2000 years old... Of course in India you live simultaneously in different time zones, it is not such a huge deal, but it still quite something.
CN: So there is a soul in the iron?
JP: I think yes.
CN: So there is a soul in the computer too?
JP: I suppose you could say that. To an Indian 'soul' is not an alien concept.
CN: Do you imagine 'soul' lives in technology as well up to the point where it helps us steer towards survival and well-being?
JP: I think it is interesting to explore, the idea of the soul of the technology and whether it has a material existence at its core or whether it is more nebulous or ephemeral that moves away once a new model comes or a new avatar. It is like 286 chips or 386 and 486, but the learning, if one was to say that was the soul of it, will move to the next level and the next. Perhaps look at the core of it and perhaps it is continuously been worked at and located in new kind of bodies. Perhaps you could look at it like that.
CN: Anything you want to add?
JP: I think this idea I had in 1993-1994 with John and Michiel of doing a telephone project in a tribal context where notion of privacy is very different. What we have today as a telephone is a business instrument, it what not designed to keep the family together. And it wrecked families, every time there was a call and someone did not want to share it and so forth. What if we designed a phone for a community where there was no privacy and every call everyone could hear and what if we then bring this phone to New York? Would life in New York become more tribal? Could it challenge that?
I think this way of informing the form - where you look at values and locate something in a particular community and see what shape the hardware and the technology takes, because then it has all those values that are resident in the community - and then take it to another context and see whether some of these things get transposed. I think that work has not happened where you take the values that are resident in a place and use it to inform the form. It has constantly been the pragmatic of the business and the industry and you adapt yourself to use it. But if the material of the technology was so sensitive that you if you left it and people's experiences shift it in a particular way, now that would be very interesting. I think design, given the technology we have now, should do some projects like this.
CN: The ideas and values of what a human being is also have to be invented as well? For the values to inform the form, the community has to agree on the values. And to be able to formulate the values you have to know where you want to go. So it is an ethical conversation, which hardly happens in innovation processes. You cannot formulate the values if you do not know where you come from or where you go? So this needs a longer time frame.
JP: May be it is not necessary to always have a consensus on these issues. The nature of technology is so different now. If you do not want to sit on a chair, you sit on the ground. Now it is possible to sit in whatever way you want to. It is possible and industry may be prepared to make some for each of these possibilities. You do not need consensus. There could be a larger adhering to certain principles. Ok, I subscribe to these things. Like more and more people subscribe to green agents. And let that lead the next, otherwise this creating consensus perhaps it never happens, it has to many of the past references.
CN: Than we get back to the artisan family of the beginning of our talk where people are never judged or all the time, but it is never presented as a judgement. All can be, within certain limits?
JP: It is self-organization and self-ordering.
CN: Thank you.
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