Let us impact the material world
sean at openmoko.com
Fri Jun 27 06:56:58 CEST 2008
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
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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