[openmoko-announce] Let us impact the material world

Sean Moss-Pultz sean at openmoko.com
Fri Jun 27 06:56:58 CEST 2008

Dear Community

I am in Columbia. Drinking local coffee (yes Paola your coffee is the 
best in the world) and thinking with the early morning clarity only 
those blessed with jag-lag can understand.

Yesterday was an amazing day. After a morning walk around the government
buildings and many beautiful museums of Bogota, we went up into the
mountainous region of Monserrate. To get to the top of this cityscape 
icon and pilgrimage destination you have three choices: A gravity 
defying train, a somewhat stable cable car, or climbing. Pilgrims prefer 
the latter; but, perhaps due to the long delays of FreeRunner, my sense 
of urgency even here was overwhelming, I chose the cable car.

For almost two years now I have told the story of Openmoko. Ascending 
that mountain provided me with a brief moment where, like my new view of 
Bogota, I was able to look at things from the outside. A moment long 
enough to rethink the way in which I told our story. I realized that 
evangelizing the impact of digital technologies is not enough. We must 
take charge of them. The story of Openmoko needs to be a story of us 
changing our "open source reality". For this is the opportunity 
presented to us now.

Think: The collapse of so many hi tech companies on our stock exchanges 
has humbled many. Creators within the digital world -- no matter how 
novel and exciting -- will have no value unless they impact the material 
world directly.

So this is my call to all of us today. Our work must begin to impact the
material world. We have the tools. We have the knowledge. We must use 
our knowledge to transcend the digital world.

People use heroes as touchstones to help them surmount their challenges. 
John Maeda has been a hero of mine ever since I first discovered my love 
for combining art and computers. I encourage you all to learn more about 
this incredibly creative person. His "Laws of Simplicity" would be a 
good place to start. For projects like ours, these are indeed guiding 

Let me share one of his "laws" with you today; it's the tenth one:

    "Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the

Hardly a day goes by for me without thinking about this elegant idea.
The smart phone has become too complex. Our challenge is to make it 
simple and wise.

Yes I am well aware of the distance between us and this goal. The 
complexity of our system pains me as much as I'm sure it pains you. But 
starting today, I hope we can become more conscious and more focused on 
simplicity and wisdom.

We have been hard at work subtracting the obvious from our current
architectures. Our new framework initiative
(http://wiki.openmoko.org/wiki/OpenmokoFramework), is all about 
simplicity achieved through a complexity of thought and design. But 
Maeda insists that we must add meaning. Removing the obvious is not 
enough. So then, what meaningful for a smart phone? What exactly can we 
add that hasn't been added before?

Today let me share two concepts. The first stems from a genre of design 
called "reactive graphics". Pressed to come up with an explanation of 
how this differs from interactive graphics, I would say the following: 
Reactive design engages the viewer at an almost instinctual level, 
rather than just the communication level found in interactive designs. 
This has a profound effect on how an individual views technology. 
"Reactivity" is, in my opinion, the key ingredient for making computers 
feel more human. All living organisms react. When our Neos begin to 
react to the environment around them, they will feel more alive to 
normal people. This is comforting. This is a simple way for us to impact 
the material world.

Meeting interesting people with creative ideas is perhaps the most 
rewarding part of my job. Last night, while fighting off the 
less-than-helpful side of jet-lag, I had an great conversation with my 
new Columbian friend, Offray, about how Openmoko can better impact our 
daily lives. The Neo, to him, is a social cognition node -- an artifact
-- where we can balance the power of the individual with that of the 
group within the mobile world.

Here comes the second concept: Artifacts, he explained, have values 
embedded within, but sometimes they are not explicit. Our challenge, he 
said, is how to make this explicit.

Start with things people are familiar with and find new ways to make 
them more qualitative, says Offray. Take SMS, he continues, instead of 
just plain text, why not send special compressed messages, readable only 
by Neos. We can use these as enablers to change mobile ecosystems. Hack 
their network to embed more freedoms for normal people. Add more 
meaning. Transform our Neo into an artifact.

These are only two concepts. Many more exist. Together, we must start a
conscious exploration of simple ways to impact the material world around 
us. Exactly where this will lead us is unclear. But we must begin.

Whenever I talk publicly about Openmoko, or so it seems, the following
question is asked: How can you compete again the giants of this 
industry? For most of us, I'd like to think, the answer is obvious.
Instead of answering, I usually return their question: How can they 
compete against us?

Openmoko is the collective creation of amateurs working on exactly what 
we love. They are professions, some doing what they love, most working 
towards the next paycheck.

At certain times, the amateur has a distinct advantage over the 
professional. A professional knows what they can deliver, and rarely 
goes beyond it. An amateur has no concept of their limitations and 
usually goes well beyond them. Experience teaches us our limits. When we 
have learned that and become complacent, we are finished, because our 
work can be calculated and measured. Our work ceases to be a weapon.

Now is such a time. Let us ignore limitations. Let us create new
technologies that breed new ways of thinking. Let us impact the material 

Thousands of FreeRunners have been loaded into planes and fired around 
the world. Many of our distributors have already begun shipping. In 
about another week, Steve and Harry will announce the opening of our own 

I plan to start a new blog, sharing stories of how our Neos impact the 
material world. If you have something you would like to share, please 
email me directly. I would love to weave your ideas in our collective story.

Thank you, from the the bottom of my heart, for all your incredible 
support and patience. I know the delays have been long. But now we are 
ready. Let us run free and impact the material world.


Sean (one very excited amateur)

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