I spent a large part of the ’90s getting a PhD at Tsukuba University Institute of Art and Design, a largely closed-off, pristine educational enclave of Japanese master makers and thinkers. There were no computers to speak of, and the web hadn’t really happened yet. It was a happy time, unfettered by the e-mails and other e-disruptions that fill all of our days today. I often found myself in the library — intently learning about the history of design through old publications from Ulm (a kind of post-Bauhaus school) and of course the Bauhaus itself.
Conversely, I had spent the decade prior affixed to a computer, at MIT. The ’80s was the time when the first “undo” action was invented. Imagine a world without undo; I remember after I began studying at Tsukuba, I was in an ink-drawing class where I noticed that whenever I made an error, my hand would reach for command-Z on an invisible keyboard in my mind. I had to “unlearn” being digital. In doing so, I learned to truly appreciate the advantages of being a student — to get the chance to unlearn what I knew, in order to learn anew. This wonderful educational experience inspired me to become a teacher myself. I returned to MIT as a junior professor at the Media Lab, where I could bring some of my art and design education to bear.
While I was cloistered in Japan, the computer really started to take off. It was fast. And it kept getting faster, cheaper, and better. Digital art and design were largely panned by the art ...