Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • I have to say that I'm very glad to be here.

  • I understand we have over 80 countries here,

  • so that's a whole new paradigm for me to speak

  • to all of these countries.

  • In each country, I'm sure you have this thing called

  • the parent-teacher conference.

  • Do you know about the parent-teacher conference?

  • Not the ones for your kids, but the one you had as a child,

  • where your parents come to school and your teacher

  • talks to your parents, and it's a little bit awkward.

  • Well, I remember in third grade, I had this moment

  • where my father, who never takes off from work,

  • he's a classical blue collar, a working-class immigrant person,

  • going to school to see his son, how he's doing,

  • and the teacher said to him, he said, "You know,

  • John is good at math and art."

  • And he kind of nodded, you know?

  • The next day I saw him talking to a customer at our

  • tofu store, and he said, "You know, John's good at math."

  • (Laughter)

  • And that always stuck with me all my life.

  • Why didn't Dad say art? Why wasn't it okay?

  • Why? It became a question my entire life, and

  • that's all right, because being good at math meant

  • he bought me a computer, and some of you remember

  • this computer, this was my first computer.

  • Who had an Apple II? Apple II users, very cool. (Applause)

  • As you remember, the Apple II did nothing at all. (Laughter)

  • You'd plug it in, you'd type in it and green text would come out.

  • It would say you're wrong most of the time.

  • That was the computer we knew.

  • That computer is a computer that I learned about

  • going to MIT, my father's dream. And at MIT, however,

  • I learned about the computer at all levels,

  • and after, I went to art school to get away from computers,

  • and I began to think about the computer as more of

  • a spiritual space of thinking.

  • And I was influenced by performance art --

  • so this is 20 years ago. I made a computer out of people.

  • It was called the Human Powered Computer Experiment.

  • I have a power manager, mouse driver, memory, etc.,

  • and I built this in Kyoto, the old capital of Japan.

  • It's a room broken in two halves.

  • I've turned the computer on,

  • and these assistants are placing a giant floppy disk

  • built out of cardboard, and it's put into the computer.

  • And the floppy disk drive person wears it. (Laughter)

  • She finds the first sector on the disk, and

  • takes data off the disk and passes it off to, of course, the bus.

  • So the bus diligently carries the data into the computer

  • to the memory, to the CPU, the VRAM, etc.,

  • and it's an actual working computer. That's a bus, really. (Laughter)

  • And it looks kind of fast. That's a mouse driver,

  • where it's XY. (Laughter)

  • It looks like it's happening kind of quickly, but it's actually

  • a very slow computer, and when I realized how slow

  • this computer was compared to how fast a computer is,

  • it made me wonder about computers and technology in general.

  • And so I'm going to talk today about four things, really.

  • The first three things are about how I've been curious

  • about technology, design and art, and how they intersect,

  • how they overlap, and also a topic that I've taken on

  • since four years ago I became the President

  • of Rhode Island School of Design: leadership.

  • And I'll talk about how I've looked to combine

  • these four areas into a kind of a synthesis, a kind of experiment.

  • So starting from technology,

  • technology is a wonderful thing.

  • When that Apple II came out, it really could do nothing.

  • It could show text and

  • after we waited a bit, we had these things called images.

  • Remember when images were first possible with a computer,

  • those gorgeous, full-color images?

  • And then after a few years, we got CD-quality sound.

  • It was incredible. You could listen to sound on the computer.

  • And then movies, via CD-ROM. It was amazing.

  • Remember that excitement?

  • And then the browser appeared. The browser was great,

  • but the browser was very primitive, very narrow bandwidth.

  • Text first, then images, we waited,

  • CD-quality sound over the Net,

  • then movies over the Internet. Kind of incredible.

  • And then the mobile phone occurred,

  • text, images, audio, video. And now we have iPhone,

  • iPad, Android, with text, video, audio, etc.

  • You see this little pattern here?

  • We're kind of stuck in a loop, perhaps, and this sense

  • of possibility from computing is something I've been

  • questioning for the last 10 or so years,

  • and have looked to design, as we understand most things,

  • and to understand design with our technology has been a passion of mine.

  • And I have a small experiment to give you a quick design lesson.

  • Designers talk about the relationship between form

  • and content, content and form. Now what does that mean?

  • Well, content is the word up there: fear.

  • It's a four-letter word. It's a kind of a bad feeling word, fear.

  • Fear is set in Light Helvetica, so it's not too stressful,

  • and if you set it in Ultra Light Helvetica,

  • it's like, "Oh, fear, who cares?" Right? (Laughter)

  • You take the same Ultra Light Helvetica and make it big,

  • and like, whoa, that hurts. Fear.

  • So you can see how you change the scale, you change

  • the form. Content is the same, but you feel differently.

  • You change the typeface to, like, this typeface,

  • and it's kind of funny. It's like pirate typeface,

  • like Captain Jack Sparrow typeface. Arr! Fear!

  • Like, aww, that's not fearful. That's actually funny.

  • Or fear like this, kind of a nightclub typeface. (Laughter)

  • Like, we gotta go to Fear. (Laughter)

  • It's, like, amazing, right? (Laughter) (Applause)

  • It just changes the same content.

  • Or you make it -- The letters are separated apart,

  • they're huddled together like on the deck of the Titanic,

  • and you feel sorry for the letters, like, I feel the fear.

  • You feel for them.

  • Or you change the typeface to something like this.

  • It's very classy. It's like that expensive restaurant, Fear.

  • I can never get in there. (Laughter)

  • It's just amazing, Fear. But that's form, content.

  • If you just change one letter in that content,

  • you get a much better word, much better content: free.

  • "Free" is a great word. You can serve it almost any way.

  • Free bold feels like Mandela free.

  • It's like, yes, I can be free.

  • Free even light feels kind of like, ah, I can breathe in free.

  • It feels great. Or even free spread out,

  • it's like, ah, I can breathe in free, so easily.

  • And I can add in a blue gradient and a dove,

  • and I have, like, Don Draper free. (Laughter)

  • So you see that -- form, content, design, it works that way.

  • It's a powerful thing. It's like magic, almost,

  • like the magicians we've seen at TED. It's magic.

  • Design does that.

  • And I've been curious about how design and technology intersect,

  • and I'm going to show you some old work I never really

  • show anymore, to give you a sense of what I used to do.

  • So -- yeah.

  • So I made a lot of work in the '90s.

  • This was a square that responds to sound.

  • People ask me why I made that. It's not clear. (Laughter)

  • But I thought it'd be neat for the square

  • to respond to me, and my kids were small then,

  • and my kids would play with these things, like, "Aaah,"

  • you know, they would say, "Daddy, aaah, aaah." You know, like that.

  • We'd go to a computer store, and they'd do the same thing.

  • And they'd say, "Daddy, why doesn't the computer respond to sound?"

  • And it was really at the time I was wondering why doesn't the computer respond to sound?

  • So I made this as a kind of an experiment at the time.

  • And then I spent a lot of time in the space of

  • interactive graphics and things like this, and I stopped doing it because

  • my students at MIT got so much better than myself,

  • so I had to hang up my mouse.

  • But in '96, I made my last piece. It was in black and white,

  • monochrome, fully monochrome, all in integer mathematics.

  • It's called "Tap, Type, Write."

  • It's paying a tribute to the wonderful typewriter

  • that my mother used to type on all the time as a legal secretary.

  • It has 10 variations. (Typing noise)

  • (Typing noise)

  • There's a shift.

  • Ten variations. This is, like, spin the letter around.

  • (Typing noises)

  • This is, like, a ring of letters. (Typing noises)

  • This is 20 years old, so it's kind of a --

  • Let's see, this is

  • I love the French film "The Red Balloon."

  • Great movie, right? I love that movie. So,

  • this is sort of like a play on that. (Typing noises) (Typewriter bell)

  • It's peaceful, like that. (Laughter)

  • I'll show this last one. This is about balance, you know.

  • It's kind of stressful typing out, so if you

  • type on this keyboard, you can, like, balance it out.

  • (Laughter)

  • If you hit G, life's okay, so I always say,

  • "Hit G, and it's going to be all right.

  • Thank you. (Applause)

  • Thank you.

  • So that was 20 years ago, and

  • I was always on the periphery of art.

  • By being President of RISD I've gone deep into art,

  • and art is a wonderful thing, fine art, pure art.

  • You know, when people say, "I don't get art.

  • I don't get it at all." That means art is working, you know?

  • It's like, art is supposed to be enigmatic, so when you say,

  • like, "I don't get it," like, oh, that's great. (Laughter)

  • Art does that, because art is about asking questions,

  • questions that may not be answerable.

  • At RISD, we have this amazing facility called

  • the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab. It has 80,000 samples

  • of animal, bone, mineral, plants.

  • You know, in Rhode Island, if an animal gets hit on the road,

  • they call us up and we pick it up and stuff it.

  • And why do we have this facility?

  • Because at RISD, you have to look at the actual animal,

  • the object, to understand its volume, to perceive it.

  • At RISD, you're not allowed to draw from an image.

  • And many people ask me, John, couldn't you just

  • digitize all this? Make it all digital? Wouldn't it be better?

  • And I often say, well, there's something good to how things

  • used to be done. There's something very different about it,

  • something we should figure out what is good about

  • how we did it, even in this new era.

  • And I have a good friend, he's a new media artist named

  • Tota Hasegawa. He's based in London, no, actually it's in Tokyo,

  • but when he was based in London, he had a game

  • with his wife. He would go to antique shops,

  • and the game was as such:

  • When we look at an antique we want,

  • we'll ask the shopkeeper for the story behind the antique,

  • and if it's a good story, we'll buy it.

  • So they'd go to an antique shop, and they'd look at this cup,

  • and they'd say, "Tell us about this cup."

  • And the shopkeeper would say, "It's old." (Laughter)

  • "Tell us more.""Oh, it's really old." (Laughter)

  • And he saw, over and over, the antique's value

  • was all about it being old.

  • And as a new media artist, he reflected, and said,

  • you know, I've spent my whole career making new media art.

  • People say, "Wow, your art, what is it?"It's new media.

  • And he realized, it isn't about old or new.

  • It's about something in between.

  • It isn't about "old," the dirt, "new," the cloud. It's about what is good.

  • A combination of the cloud and the dirt is where the action is at.

  • You see it in all interesting art today, in all

  • interesting businesses today. How we combine

  • those two together to make good is very interesting.

  • So art makes questions, and

  • leadership is something that is asking a lot of questions.

  • We aren't functioning so easily anymore.

  • We aren't a simple authoritarian regime anymore.

  • As an example of authoritarianism, I was in Russia one time

  • traveling in St. Petersburg, at a national monument,

  • and I saw this sign that says, "Do Not Walk On The Grass,"

  • and I thought, oh, I mean, I speak English,

  • and you're trying to single me out. That's not fair.

  • But I found a sign for Russian-speaking people,

  • and it was the best sign ever to say no.

  • It was like, "No swimming, no hiking, no anything."

  • My favorite ones are "no plants." Why would you bring a plant to a national monument? I'm not sure.

  • And also "no love." (Laughter)

  • So that is authoritarianism.

  • And what is that, structurally?

  • It's a hierarchy. We all know that a hierarchy is how we run

  • many systems today, but as we know, it's been disrupted.

  • It is now a network instead of a perfect tree.

  • It's a heterarchy instead of a hierarchy. And that's kind of awkward.

  • And so today, leaders are faced

  • with how to lead differently, I believe.

  • This is work I did with my colleague Becky Bermont