John Kestner

One of MIT Media Lab's brightest minds bringing the physical back into digital worlds

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Being a graduate student at MIT’s Media Lab is generally a solid prerequisite for assuming someone has brains and John Kestner is no exception. His two new projects explore relationships with digital media, attempting to anchor online interactions in the physical world.

Kestner’s project Tableau harkens back to when communication and social connections took place in person with a conversation, or high-five. Tableau, which looks like your standard handsome nightstand, connects the high tech with the classic feeling of receiving a letter from a friend at camp. Essentially the device is an Internet-enabled printer and scanner that connects to a Twitter feed. When a photo appears in your feed, the Tableau prints it out and drops it into the drawer to be collected at the user’s leisure. If you want to send a message, you simply put it in the drawer and the Tableau scans it and publishes in to your feed. Constructed from reclaimed materials, it only uses Zink paper, a printing medium that requires no printer cartridges. The Tableau can currently be seen on exhibit at the Saint Etienne International Design Biennale.

Kestner’s other project, which involved some fellow Media Lab cohorts, he calls the Proverbial Wallet. Based around the disconnect between the user and the intangible numbers of a bank account, the Proverbial Wallet interprets numerical data into a physical stimulus using Bluetooth technology. Each of the three prototypes serve to alert the user of different scenarios they might encounter financially.

The Bumblebee contains a vibrating motor. Every time your bank processes a transaction, the wallet will buzz. If your wallet buzzes and you aren’t handing your credit card to a cashier or its not time to auto-pay your bills then it is probably a good idea to check for fraudulent activity.

Designed to protect the user from themselves, the Mother Bear wallet becomes easier to open when you’re flush, locking itself up like a clam when your balance gets low. You can also program it to abide by a monthly budget to discourage unnecessary spending.

The Peacock is ideal for anyone who wants to showboat how many zeros were on their last check. The wallet will swell or shrink depending on your account balance. If you deposit that fat check on Friday before going out for the night the Peacock will reflect your good fortune and potentially attract some lovely companions.

Both of Kestner’s projects take an interesting look at how we relate to our media and our money. Most modern users take for granted the giant virtual gap between information and the physical self. Kestner’s work remind us how communication used to take place, the value of physically interacting with the virtual world and why all of that might be really important.