This week we bring you Jay Silver. Jay is best described as a wacky mad scientist and toy maker. He is currently working on his PHD at the MIT media lab and has consulted on this project since its inception. So much of Jay's work is based around creative investigation that we felt that he would be a wonderful spotlight. He constantly documents his world and has focused his life on building tool kits for others to better investigate their surroundings. Check out his website for a range of projects and inventions.
Who are you and what is your profession? I'm Jay Silver, and I work on toys that help people practice joy. I think of these toys as tools or toolkits which help people practice looking at the world again for the first time -- with a beginner's mind. One popular name for this is "creative learning". I work in the LifeLong Kindergarten at MIT's Media Lab, where we all work on making the world a little more like kindergarten: learn by doing, sharing, imagining, creating, etc.
Can you tell us a little about your background and upbringing? I was raised by hippies and midwives in Cocoa Beach, FL, a small surf town which is a barrier island. I taught my first workshop in 2nd grade called "vine twirling" where students would go out into the forest, cut down vines, and bring them back to make wreaths and baskets. My dad runs a nonprofit cooperative health food store, and my mom helps women learn to breastfeed and advocates for breastfeeding at the hospital. They both inspired me to give service to the world in the way I can best help. I studied engineering at Georgia Tech, Internet Technology at Cambridge, and Signal Processing at MIT. I also learned dance on the streets, and have studied yoga extensively at Yogaville.
What inspired you to be a such a creator in the sense that you are now?
I think it's inherited from my species. Humans are such creators. Their attention has been diverted from the biggest toolkit ever: mother nature. There are so many loose parts sitting all around us all the time, either manmade or wild, that are just waiting to be put together in new ways. But it is easy to fall into "modernized poverty": a situation where we look to the marketplace for the solutions to our problems. We're not "poor" in money or resources, it's a deficit of self confidence and imagination. One of my favorite inspirations is the image on the sign of Cafe Gratitude.
It shows a woman looking into a bare apple orchard, but in the reflection of her sunglasses the orchard is abundant with life. Seeing the world this way, I think we can all create our own world.
Who are your heroes?
Gandhi, Jesus, Buddha, Ralph Nader, Fat Mike (of NOFX), a number of Swamis/Monks/Saints such as Sivananda of Rishikesh and Satchidananda of Yogaville, my family, Eckhart Tolle, my cat Sage, all plants especially my pothos, and Adam Sandler.
In your ok2touch project, you and your creative team invented a jacket that encouraged contact by playing music whenever you touched someone else skin-to-skin. What inspired this project and what was it like developing it?
This project was a takeoff of an earlier project called "Drawdio" which is a pencil that draws music. I had Drawdio at a party at the Cloud Club in Boston hooked up to a huge amplifier in a room with a DJ. People could play along with the music by drawing pictures with the pencil. A guy and a girl who were flirting discovered that you could touch each other skin-to-skin to change the sound of the Drawdio, and everyone had a lot of fun doing it. I also read a lot about the importance of skin-to-skin contact between mothers and babies, and between people in general, yet found touch to be so lacking in my New England life.
It was fun developing ok2Touch. We visited some embroidery shops and tried lots of different types of conductive thread. Ultimately we just sewed it by hand.
Can you tell us about the most personally affecting experience you've undergone through your work?
Working with children in the slums of India definitely puts things in perspective.
What do you feel you want to shoot on 10.10.10?
If I'm still at MIT, I would film the stress that affluent students put on themselves for the sake of "success." I would use a lot of macro, and get up close with how they feel when they study.