Climate and Religion – Project Proposal

Research is an ongoing process. The amount of research that I have conducted until this point based on lengthy readings, articles, news, discussions, religious texts, youtube videos and wikipedia pages has been extremely insightful. However, there are still many things that I need to understand and articulate. The research process has been overwhelming (also depressing to some extent), and I’ve attempted to articulate my process underneath:

PROJECT PROPOSAL

The question of ‘belief’. Do you believe in climate change? This is a resounding question that is found in abundance across the many social platforms and daily discussions. And I think using this terminology of belief is problematic. Climate change is not Santa Claus. If the entire human race stops believing in it, it won’t cease to exist. It would continue and only get worse if the humans don’t hold themselves responsible and do something about it.

This question of belief is also something closely related to God. And this is where it gets interesting. Religion wasn’t propagated through scientific facts and data. People are not very perceptive to such arguments. Consider the recent elections for instance. Religion was preached back in the dark ages when the times were barbaric and the human race needed a rulebook of moral obligations and good humane behavior. The central idea of my project is :

To draw parallels between religion and climate change. To change the narrative using the moral sense of obligation that religion attributes, perhaps climate change can be preached to the people. Making them believe that to work for the climate is to offer service to the Lord might have interesting implications that might not have been explored thus far.

INTRODUCTION – CLIMATE REFUGEE

My topic of concentration is climate refugees. I have discussed some basic definitions, numbers and significant cases of environmental migration in a previous blog post. Climate migration can be a consequence of many factors, broadly classified into three classes. Emergency migration, forced migration and motivated migration as elaborated in the aforementioned link. Regardless of the factors contributing to migration, it’s also necessary to consider the consequences of displacing large numbers of people from one geographical location. Systems thinking helped me consolidate all the contributing factors and consequences of climate migration into one page, as illustrated below:

The systems diagram is a very useful strategy to collect information in one place, look at the interrelated connections and act as a form of reference whenever in doubt or in search of ideas.

RELIGION

In my effort to draw analogies between religion and climate change, I have been studying the history associated with the popular religions in the United States, such as Judaism and Christianity. My earlier exposure to these religions and their mythologies was minimal. The mythologies are rich with stories about oppression of the poor, migration of people from one place to the other and development of a sense of morality around a set of rules. These are some things that can be resonated in the narrative surrounding climate change and climate refugees. Also, alternate narrative is something that interests me a lot and to view climate change through the lens of religion seems like something intriguing.

Two stories that have struck a chord with me are the Ten Plagues of Egypt, wherein Moses led the Israelites to move out of the domination exercised by the Egyptian pharaohs. Another interesting story is the Flight Into Egypt, in which Joseph was forced to migrate his homeland under the threat of losing his child to King Herod’s atrocities. I have attempted to use these stories as a basis for designing an advertisement for my project.

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The ideas used behind these images is:
1. Melancholy: To use melancholy as an indicator of the adversity of the current situation. To set some context in the viewer’s mind.
2. Sermon: To frame the language so as to sound like a sermon, rather than a promotion.
3. Meme: To use the meme format so that the image is ready for propagation on social media and to reach out more viewers.

OKAY, SO WHAT’S THE PROJECT GOING TO BE EXACTLY?

I don’t know yet, to be honest. But I’ll list down what I know:

1. Concept – The idea of the project is to develop an alternative narrative that uses analogies from existing religious stories. This narrative is centered around acting towards climate change as a moral obligation (well, most things religious do sound obligatory when preached).

2. Why can this narrative work? – When it comes to climate change, people are not very receptive to scientific facts and arguments. They question it’s existence, they demand proof and they try to evade a responsibility. In religion, they do none of the above. Religion is generally blindly consumed by the masses without question or doubt, and is held as a moral compass to define their day to day actions.

3. Implementation – I would prefer the implementation to be visual. Since, it’s capable of drawing attention and motivate the viewer for further exploration. I’m also planning to accompany the visual presentation with a manifesto or a rule system. Through drawing connections with mythologies and religious stories, these stories ought to bring out a religious instigation of some kind. An example is the advertisements above. ( I would ideally like to incorporate my own art however, my art has had a very cartoon based style thus far which I think might not work in this context )

4. Propagation – I’m considering using the social media as an avenue to spread these images and gain people’s reaction. Twitter has been a verified mechanism to propagate balderdash, anyway. So why not use it to spread something that can motivate people to act towards climate change!

5. Target Audience – This is the most befuddling decision for me. I have been having many discussions around it, and couldn’t reach a conclusion. I will be talking about this in detail below.

I’m quite definite about the conceptualization and motivation behind the project. The implementation and propagation is still open to discussion and subject to change.

TARGET AUDIENCE

A dialogue with Jennifer Jacquet from the Department of Environmental Studies gave me many things to rethink, reconsider and conduct further research on. Initially, I was poised to go for the religious conservatives as my target audience. Although, the discussion made me realize the problems that might occur if I select this target audience. It also opened me to other options that can be targeted.

Conservatives – Although conservatives being generally religious, are more receptive to religious arguments, they are also studied to be very individualistic. Do I want to motivate them to act against climate change? Do I want to motivate them to simply step out of the way of people who are already trying to act? How much of a change can they actually bring given that the main players of this game are the government, lobbyists and the producers.

Corporates – Of course, targeting the big players directly isn’t an option. They have been ignoring the issues of climate change for a long time, and shall continue to do so. The question is do I need to motivate people to act against these corporations? Or do I simply want to raise a general awareness and responsibility towards climate change and make them realize it’s adversity?

Rich or poor – It has been observed that the people who are directly under the threat of being impacted by climate change are the poor. They are already facing it and are trying to cope with it. And it is unfair. Because their carbon footprint on the planet is minimal. The people who are actually causing it, are also capable of fleeing the circumstances or adapting to a new world. The question is, through religion, can this issue be modulated to an issue of human rights instead of being an issue of the environment?

MORE QUESTIONS

1. Do I hypermotivate people who are already motivated? Or do I motivate people who are not motivated to step out of the way? Given the narrative that I’m using, I’m inclined on the second approach.
2. What kind of messages are motivating in the direction of climate change while not being too deterministic? Determinism has been observed to have strange effects. There have been deterministic statements made around how humans are a destructive force, and are not evolved enough to tackle climate change. This form of determinism might make the people accept the fate of the race as a whole, and rid them of a sense of responsibility to counter climate change and act towards minimizing it. They have to realize that the damage has been an ongoing process, but there is still time to exercise damage control.
3. The people suffering are not in a position of change. Can that be changed? Do we have a sense of fairness or a sense of social justice? Can the narrative be used to generate empathy for the poor who are directly under the threat of sea level rise, the refugees fleeing deserted lands and polluted coasts?

Link to the presentation : Drive

Responses to Readings – Week 4

Doing Good is Good Business / Week 4 / Logistics for the Social Good

THE DEATH OF CHARITIES : BITCOIN AND BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY TO REPLACE THEM?

The reading was very interesting because it points to how technological intervention can work towards a social issue. More so, because it utilizes technology to do something that it wasn’t designed to do in the first place. Plus, it’s doing good instead of doing bad. Generally, new methods and technologies are susceptible to corruption and utilization for individualistic purposes. However, blockchain offers a way to change how charities operate whilst being foolproof, transparent and effective.

Some questions that I have are: How does blockchain actually work technologically? This is something that I need to find out myself. Another question is that if this technology possesses the capability to replace third party systems and middlemen, isn’t it facing threats or opposition from the said parties? And since it is operated by the users themselves, what kind of impact can it have on employment opportunities for people already working for these third parties or non-profit organizations?

M-PESA AND THE RISE OF THE GLOBAL MOBILE MONEY MARKET

The recent demonetization effort by the Indian Government was a disaster. Extreme lack of preparation by the government, shortage of currency in the market and people generally struggling to gain access to bank accounts or bank officials were some of the consequences that this ill-managed effort brought. However, mobile money intervened in this situation and helped out many people to find an easier way to transfer money. It also elevated India’s leading mobile money company PayTM into the limelight. Over time PayTM has evolved into a medium to pay telephone bills, electricity bills and even lending friends money and is not solely a transaction system anymore.

This reading helps me affirm to this idea that how technological innovation can help a developing country become independent and stand on it’s feet. Cheaper transfer charges, more widespread accessibility and dissociation from the corrupt banking systems are some of the benefits that the mobile market has introduced. It’s definitely pleasing to see the effect that this market has had on the Kenyan economy. My question is, if the market has become so accessible by every faction of the population in a developing country, can it be used for the redistribution of wealth in that economy? Can the rich be charged higher rates compared to people living below the poverty line, who should be able to use it for free? Another question is that if this system expands into a place where one can open accounts and get loans sanctioned, how can one avoid corruption, hoarding of money and reliability?

USIZO PROJECT

Continuing from my previous question around the redistribution of wealth to help places or people in actual need, this article provides a good example.

Question is, that the bitcoin payment maybe powered the school for three weeks  but how to sustain that payment system? How does one ensure that the a person/party/organization is accountable if the payment isn’t made and the power goes out again? How can the government utilize this payment system and make it more accessible to the public sector in order to supplement education, telecom and electricity?

PROVENANCE: TRACKING TUNA ON THE BLOCKCHAIN

Continuing from the earlier reading on bitcoin and the death of charities, this reading was insightful. The other reading is speculative and doesn’t dive into the specifics of the conception and implementation of blockchain technology. This experiment puts across an extensive effort towards collaborating with the first mile, producers, manufacturers and testing in the market. It’s a great example of beta testing a product, so that one can realize the challenges, loopholes and understand the associated parties better.

My questions are, how easily can this be adopted into the everyday setting? Will the people welcome such a change? Will they be willing to check the fair trade policies while making such transactions? What are some of the challenges that third party organizations such as PayPal etc cause? Will it be possible to get these organizations onboard and if so, can they reap profits out of this effort as well, can this be misused despite the transparency and trust ?

Ragamala

Interactive Music / Week 2 / Score as Code, Code as Score

This is a tentative concept for the visualization of a score and probably the final project that I wish to work towards. However, I’ll need a certain amount of research and testing the capabilities of the available softwares before knowing whether this project is feasible or not within the given timeframe.

Preface

The entire concept of musical notations, scores, composition, pitch, timbre, et cetera were alien to me. They still are, but I have gained some understanding of it over the past couple of weeks. After copious hours of being confused, contemplation and apprehension, I arrived at an idea that’s both personal to me and something that is new and unique.

Objective

I’m thinking about attempting to design a visualization for Indian Classical Music. Despite of having a rich history and being immensely influential to Western Music, I haven’t found any interpretations of classical Indian music on computers or computer generated visualizations for Indian music. At a time when this form is losing popularity and significance in India, I’m considering reinventing it so as to find relevance in the contemporary culture.

Research Involved

Indian music is complex and has many forms. Two broad classifications of this form of music are Carnatic and Hindustani. Plus, there’s an entirely different language for composing it, scoring it and playing it. My area of focus would be Hindustani music. Instruments typically used in Hindustani sangeet (music) are sitar, sarod, surbahar, esraj, veena, tanpura, bansuri, shehnai, sarangi, violin, santoor, pakhavaj and tabla. There’s still a lot of research and learning that I need to undertake before I can claim to have an understanding of this form of music. However, this is a start.

Visualization

The source of inspiration for generating visualizations for the score would be Ragamala. Ragamala is a series of illustrative paintings from medieval India dating back to early 17th century. Ragamala translates to “Garland of Ragas”, depicting various Indian musical modes called Ragas. ( link for further information )

I have been going through a research paper written by Dr. Nameeta Shah on Indian music and it’s visualization strategies for the computer medium ( link ).

Problems and Grey Areas

However before delving into this subject and actually initiating work on this project, I wanted to understand how tone.js works and whether it will be able to emulate the sounds of Indian instruments. If not, will it be able to use pre-recorded sounds and give me the freedom to play with it.

Response to Readings – Week 3

Doing Good is Good Business / Week 3 / Data Science and Research

Designing Field Trial Protocols in Ethiopia for Pneumonia Diagnostic Devices

The reading was informative to give me a general sense of what UNICEF has planned to do for tackling pneumonia deaths in Ethiopia (and other countries). The idea of ‘timely and accurate diagnosis being critical to preventing pneumonia deaths’ was insightful. The reading does provide an overview on what UNICEF plans to do, however, I could gain no sense of how they are going to do it. I visited their website and gained an understanding of the devices and protocols surrounding ARIDA. There are some questions that I have:
1. Diagnosis is the first step, true. But are all families aware about the condition of pneumonia? Is this knowledge commonplace? If not, is UNICEF taking any measures to advertise the hazards of pneumonia and informing them about the associated symptoms?
2. My understanding is that the diagnosis, advice and care provided by community healthcare workers is free. Is it? Do they also equip families with the necessary information about the contagious nature of the condition, the kind of care that should be provided after recovery et cetera?

The Economics of Drone Delivery

The reading raises many interesting points regarding the complications involved with drone deliveries, backed by quotes and data. The comparison between drone deliveries in a consumerist setting versus drone deliveries in an underserved remote setting was intriguing. While, I think that investments should be made towards drone deliveries in places inaccessible regions for medical purposes or emergency use cases, the world is also seeing drones being used to exercise control in a region (also taking lives in the process – link ). So, it’s tricky to acknowledge that legitimizing drones would only be beneficial, and not harmful.

In terms of the big corporates targeting drone deliveries, I believe that the drones will indeed see the daylight soon. Such companies put a lot of study to figure out the economics associated with such undertakings, and I don’t think economics is something that they’re worried about. The only thing obstructing them would be to reach negotiations and formulation of regulations with the Government and other involved parties.

Aerial Assessments After Sandy

The link is not working.

What is Driving Uber’s Global Impact?

Uber’s impact across the world is undeniable. My personal experiences from India resonate what the article emphasizes i.e. how Uber is changing the way transportation was once construed. Back in India, auto-rickshaws or taxis were two popular modes of transportation. Singular companies/organizations which were running these services across cities had monopolized the business, with bad infrastructure, no reliability and a steady unaccounted increase in their pricing each year. There was mistreatment of the customer, hooliganism and also cases of sexual harassment towards women. People were gradually forfeiting the idea of resorting to these modes of transportation and were striving to put together enough money to be able to buy a vehicle of their own. Uber changed the game. Not only did they provide a dependable means of transportation, they also provided vehicles in good condition and at much lower prices. More than the economic impact, the cultural impact of the company amazes me.

The article gives a nice outlook into how Uber has been making waves across the globe, and also raises a few questions that I ask myself. Data collection is central to the way Uber works. The question is, how are they going to leverage this data to solve bigger issues such as pollution and road congestion? (UberPool is there of course, and as Chris mentioned they are also putting in a lot of research towards flying cars which is befuddling!). So far, Uber has been a private initiative wherever it has operated. How can the company work with the Government to address issues in the public sector and issues being faced by the poor, rather than only catering to those with smart phones in their pockets?

Climate Refugees – The New Gods?

Week 2 / Temporary Expert / Systems Thinking and Creative Tools

I’m presently going back and forth on two ideas for the project proposal.

Idea 1 – The New Gods : Some people ‘believe’ in climate change. Some people don’t ‘believe’ in climate change. This whole commentary around believing or not believing in climate change is problematic. Global warming is supported by facts and the scientific community. You can disprove global warming using logical and scientific arguments. However, one cannot choose to believe in it or not. It exists, is backed by numbers, and wouldn’t cease to exist if human race dismisses it as a whole.

But this whole questioning of the existence of the phenomenon of climate change leads me to the following questions:

Is climate change something that needs to be preached to the skeptics? Is it something that can inspire a following, and consequently necessary counter actions? Does it need to be preached just like religion was preached in the dark ages? Are we in the wake of a new dark age?

There is an analogy that can be established between climate change now and religion back in the ages. And consequently, climate refugees can be elevated to be the new Gods. After all, Moses was a refugee. Twice, in fact. Jesus was also a refugee, wasn’t he? My interest lies in exploration of this analogy and creating a false mythology around this subject matter.

Going by the recent developments, human civilization is prone to experiencing the effects of global warming soon (it already is, and is bound to get worse if years continue to pass in ignorance). Forty or fifty years down the line, the circumstances will inspire a new society of nomads or refugees always ready to evacuate, always ready to reestablish themselves, refugees who are on the move always. Inspired by the refugee Gods from our times, this new way of living, the path of enlightenment is bringing people together and making them accept and adapt to the consequences of climate change.

Analogy and false mythology are two creative tools, that I wish to employ for this project proposal.

Idea 2 – LOL is the new SOS : The present Government is obsessed with denying climate change and repudiating its effects. The present Government is also easily triggered when they are made fun of. This idea involves creating a twitter bot that responds to politician tweets with LOL. The project being called ‘LOL is the new SOS’. However one challenge that I’m facing is that this idea is not really associated with climate refugees, but deals with the subject of climate change denial by the authorities. This idea employs mimicry to trigger response from the people and the authorities.

Experts: I’m planning to reach out to two experts at NYU Department of Environmental Studies.
1. Jennifer Jacquet is an assistant professor at the department. Her research deals with climate change and social approval, which are in line with my research subject. She also regularly publishes online articles emphasizing the effects of climate change for various publications ( link ).
2. Sonali McDermid is an assistant professor at the department. Her research is centered around climate change, land-use and agriculture. These topics are probably the most important factors contributing to the increase in climate refugees at this point in time ( link ).
3. Jugal K Patel writes articles concerning the environment for NYTimes.

Design Thinking Workshop

Doing Good is Good Business / Week 2 / Design Thinking Workshop

Overview:
This is a response to the design thinking workshop that was conducted as part of the second class of Doing Good is Good Business. The workshop involved classmates pairing up and discussing a communication problem that they were dealing with in their lives at this moment in time. My partner talked about how he was having problems communicating with his love interest, who happens to be from a different country, and is not very fluent in English.

 

Problem:
The problem involves two people who are from different countries, and are trying to communicate in English, which doesn’t happen to be either’s first language. Through the organized discussions during the workshop, I was able to deconstruct the problem and break it down into three parts:
1. General apprehensions towards saying something fearing a loss of words or judgement.
2. Misinterpretations because of the language barrier.
3. Not completely understanding what the other person is speaking and hesitation around asking them to repeat.

Solution:
Initially, I started thinking on the lines of heavy technological interventions. First idea that struck me was using mobile device translators to make the person more relaxed to speak in their native tongue, and ensuring the other person can understand what they are saying. However while rethinking the solution, it seemed very problematic:
1. It only ensures a short-term solution. Making the communicators habituated to talking through their phones would result in a dependency on technology for even the simplest of dialogues. For a long term fix, a common language of communication is necessary.
2. Misinterpretations in the phone translators are very common.

I diverged from thinking convoluted solutions and revisited the bullet points from the problem statement. I realized that perhaps, the problem does not point towards a technological gap but towards social patterns. I came up with a simple solution that could make communication much easier without worrying about the social consequences.
The solution that I designed was four simple cards / four options in the phone keyboard. The cards are as follows:
1. Repeat – ask the person to repeat what they said.
2. Meaning – ask them to explain what they are talking about.
3. Honestly speaking – to convey what’s on your mind.
4. Got it – not really a necessary card, but can be used in continuation to either of the cards mentioned above.

The whole idea is to give new definitions to these simple questions that a person involved in a communication might want to ask but is too hesitant/apprehensive to speak out due to fear of judgement or annoying the other person. Making these questions look like a normalized option would make the communicators more comfortable with using them without thinking much.

Conclusively, I felt that this was a good exercise for studying problems and designing solutions.
Rereading, rethinking, revisiting questions and answers and most importantly, iterative feedback from the user plays a vital role during the ideation and design of a product.

Moving Mandala

Nature of Code / Week 2 / Forces and Vectors


What is a Mandala?
A mandala is a spiritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism that was used to represent the universe or the cosmos. It has gradually been adapted as a form of designing structures and psychedelics. The pattern can be found in various places ranging from rangoli designs and album covers to internet art and even hypnosis videos (haha).

Design and Process
Moving Mandala is a simple sketch drawn using the Mover and Attractor classes created by Daniel Shiffman. In fact, the sketch has been drawn on top of Shiffman’s example on the basic attractor.

The whole idea was conceived while I was playing around with the sketch, and trying to develop it into a mandala. I created two partitions and two Mover objects that simultaneously move and constantly change the mandala as they go. The transformations occur as illustrated in the overhead gif.

Ideas
Never having been in the position of creating generative art (but always having wanted to do so), I was struggling to come up with ideas to begin with. I started tweaking with Shiffman’s sketches and soon realized how the force of attraction can be used to generate mandalas. More so, transforming mandalas. I guess force of attraction is not solely applicable to love and magnets (haha?). The results of this small experiment were definitely amusing, and have given me a lot of leads to work with going forth:

– Modulating alpha values (perhaps, using Gaussian distribution) and looking at the results
– Using more partitions and different patterns
– Changing the acceleration in a controlled manner to produce variant mandalas
– Defining forces between the two objects, along with the force between the objects and the center


Source Code

The associated pde files can be found on Nature of Code’s drive.

Manifesto

Interactive Music / Week 1 / Introduction

Creation of music is something that has always fascinated me, but something that I haven’t indulged in yet. As someone who has zilch experience of creating music, the first week of the class was particularly eye-opening for me. The questioning of the fundamental concepts surrounding the understanding of music, sound and listening were quite influential in reshaping what I perceived to be music. One definition that particularly stood out was:

“Music is organized listening.”

I have always held a reverence for music, through the many artists that I’ve explored and obsessed over for the past many years. This reverence was centered around the creation of music. However, to know that the perception of music is as critical as the creation was one thing that I had not thought about earlier. Which brings me to the next set of learnings from the class discussions and personal reflections.

  • Interactive music is a beautiful way to create music while engaging the listener. How they perceive the music, is of course, subjective. This form of creation is not something that is created by one and consumed by many. Here, the consumer is as equal a creator as compared to the one who constructed the interactive piece in the first place. Which is why inclusion is fundamental. The interface should be intuitive and engaging.
  • Fandom. Or mentioned during a class discussion how the new age of music streaming is slowly diminishing the fandom around music. Which is true! Why is Alt J’s album art (An Awesome Wave) not being discussed as much as maybe Sgt Pepper’s? There is a general ignorance around an album as a singular listening experience. People are less aware of the artists and their motivations behind creating the music that they do. Music listening is becoming an ephemeral experience, instead of being an exploration. The art created around music needs to be reshaped and reinvented.
  • Wayward. My life, so far, has been full of wayward interests and experimentations. Which is why I’m here at ITP. I want the music I create to be reflective of my nature, for it to be wayward, for it to have different interpretations.

Keeping all of these in mind, here is the manifesto that I came up with. I revisited Tristan Tzara’s Dada Manifesto for some inspiration, before I sat down to write my own.

Manifesto
Music for One and Many

What is a manifesto but a guide for creating art in the future. What is the future but an expectation of what might be. What are expectations but preludes to satisfaction or disappointments. What is satisfaction but a feeling of contentment. What is contentment but a lack a disappointment. What is art but something that gives you pleasure, purpose or resonance. The perception of art is sensory; aural or visual or both. What is music but the perception of art through sound. What is good music but something that has the capability to trigger feelings or emotions in the listener. What triggers feelings but something that can connect with the listener’s conscious or subconscious. Interactive arts often aid in establishing this connection. What is interaction but an immersive experience for the user. Interactive music, if good, carries huge potential to strike a chord with the user’s emotions. It’s time to harness this potential. It’s time to make music that is interactive. It’s time to make music that is beautiful.

Life is random()

Nature of Code / Week 1 / Random Walkers, Gaussian Distribution and Perlin Noise

Since I waived Introduction to Computational Media last semester, I didn’t really get enough bandwidth to play around with p5. I did learn it however, as part of my final project for Introduction to Physical Computing. So as soon as I was exposed to the random and noise methods, I cracked my knuckles and started fooling about with p5. Through using the random functions, I discovered how I could easily form celestial visualizations. Below are a few instances :

Links for source code and moving sketches :

Abyss : https://alpha.editor.p5js.org/utsav/sketches/SkMRS_POe
Galaxy : https://alpha.editor.p5js.org/utsav/sketches/HyMef_P_l
Comet : https://alpha.editor.p5js.org/utsav/sketches/BJFF1ldux