words Justin McGuirk
The “global stethoscope” is a concept developed by professor Shinichi Takemura, a media designer and cultural anthropologist at Kyoto University of Art and Design. The most impressive speaker at this year’s Design Indaba, Takemura’s mission is to connect people with different parts of the globe, starting with their ears.
He opened his talk with the sound of water falling in a Kyoto temple, which was being broadcast live over the internet (www.aqua-scape.jp). It was a simple illustration of what a truly global media environment might be like – and of the implications for mankind.
“We often see the news of overseas wars and terrorist strikes, but we don’t often feel these things are our own personal problems,” said Takemura. “If we were to hear the actual sounds of individuals screaming or the sirens in real time, through something like a global stethoscope on the internet, it would completely change our emotional response to these tragedies.”
Takemura describes these aural connections as “sensewares”, and sees them as an alernative way of developing our imaginations. “It is precisely because we are living in a world deluged with visual information that I wanted this work to focus on our faculty of hearing. Listening to these sounds, we fill in the blanks with vivid colours in high resolution.”
This vision of a sensory and emotive alternative to the commercial model of globalisation had the audience erupting into spontaneous applause, but Takemura had a far more impressive and literal embodiment of it still to show. His Tangible Earth project is the world’s first digital globe. At a scale of 10,000,000 to one (or 1.28m in diameter), Takemura’s virtual globe depicts the Earth as though you were seeing it from space. It presents sun and cloud movements in real time, along with data on, for instance, global warming, seismic activity and bird migration patterns.
Tangible Earth, which Takemura will be presenting at the G8 summit this year, is a step away from keyboards and screens back towards the analogue faculties that are most intuitive – the touch sensitive surface appears to spin in the manner of traditional globes.
“What we are trying to achieve with our project is different from Google Earth,” said Takemura. “We want to communicate a tangible sense of our planet. To feel the earth as one living orb... For example, the troposphere, the layer of air blanketing the earth up to ten thousand metres, up to where jets fly, is only 1 mm thick on this globe. Even a child can see how fragile the air layer covering the Earth is.”
top image Shinichi Takemura using the Tangible Earth globe © Shinichi Takemura