The Devastating Effect of the Tsunami in Sendai, Japan, on March 11th, 2011

The horrifying images on television of the earthquake and tsunami that afflicted the Japanese coastline last Friday remind us of the fragility of the civilization that we have developed on our planet, and show the enormous power of nature. Professor Shinichi Takemura is concerned that we are hiding information about the condition of the planet as a whole from ourselves, and he has set out to produce media to reveal the truth. The Tangible Earth project communicates the holistic nature of sustainability for the planet with directness and emotional power.

Professor Shinichi Takemura, June 2008

I first met Shinichi at the Indaba design conference in Cape Town, South Africa, where his presentation captivated everyone in the audience. I immediately asked him if he would like to be interviewed for Designing Media and he enthusiastically accepted. When next in Japan, I arranged to meet him at the site of one of his Tangible Earth installations. My video of his demonstration is the foundation of the third interview in Chapter 6 in my new book, Designing Media.

Tectonic Plates Made Visible by Accumulated Seismological Events

If you watch the full (4:37 min) video from the interview, you will see many aspects of the interconnected nature of our planet demonstrated simply and clearly, but the most relevant to last Friday’s disaster comes at 2:18 minutes. Here you can see the accumulation of seismological events showing the shapes of the tectonic plates, with the Japanese archipelago located at the junction of four of them. This is followed by a demonstration of the tsunami of December 2004, rushing furiously across the Indian Ocean. With his magnifying pointer, Shinichi locates images of the devastation that happened then. We were thrilled when Professor Takemura agreed to bring one of his Tangible Earth units to our Museum for a presentation in the Bill’s Design Talks series last November. You can watch the full presentation here if you want. Even better, he has left the unit with us, so that you can visit the Museum and interact with it yourself for the next week.

The Tangible Earth Project Installed at the Cooper-Hewitt

Shinichi Takemura changed his role in life from being an anthropologist conducting field research to a media producer in order to communicate information about our situation that he believes to be true. He founded the Earth Literacy Program, a nonprofit organization that he runs as a base for his activities, and in 2001 he started developing the Tangible Earth project, developing a multimedia globe that represents the planet at accurate scale, based on information provided by scientists from various fields. When you push gently on the surface of the hemisphere with your hands, you ease the world into motion. You can see the border between day and night and follow the weather systems in real time, or change the mode on the control panel to bring up a representation of historical and research data about earthquakes, ocean currents, and so on. You can use your hands to feel your way around the globe, with your sense of touch combining with the animated projections to leave an indelible memory in your mind.

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