When you have a moment to be advised by someone who leads the world in a field of enquiry, it's good to listen closely. You might have been able to access the same wisdom from a peer or even from within yourself, but would you have listened as intently?
So earlier this month I had such a moment. I was chatting to Professor Lian Loke in a break at the Tangible and Embedded Interaction (TEI) conference that she was co-chairing, and keynote speaker Professor Hiroshi Ishii came over to say hello.
For me, this is not a casual matter. Hiroshi Ishii is the leading light in the world of tangible digital interaction, "giving physical form to digital information and computation". He produces groundbreaking, influential and beautiful work, and leads the Tangible Media group that he founded at the MIT Media Lab after he joined them in 1995.
I was saddened by the revelations of MIT’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein, including the secret acceptance of his money and influence at the Media Lab – in part because the Media Lab had meant so much to me. Stories from its early days inspired me to pursue my own interest in design and computing, back when exploring that intersection was considered eccentric at best. It's a storied place, and Professor Ishii's work is a shining thread in that story.
Lian asked Hiroshii a question. It was about the highly produced gallery exhibitions that he stages of his work. She wanted to know why he put so much time and effort into them, rather than focusing on books (or perhaps as is more usual for academics today, sheer volume of published papers). Lian is an artist herself so I am sure she had her own ideas. But here is the answer he gave.
"When you do you research", he set out, "it is most important to communicate. This is why I spend a lot of time and effort on the communication. But also when you communicate", and he tapped his chest twice – "you need to reach the heart".
So that is what I will take with me from TEI. To pause after completing the work, to spend the time to communicate it well, to understand who I am speaking to and to do that with focus and intent.