Happy Birthday Media Lab!

Today, the MIT Media Lab starts its big 25th anniversary bash. And I’m sad that I’m missing the event. But the next best thing to being there is reminiscing, right?

Twenty years ago, when I was a student there, the Lab was celebrating its 5th anniversary. As part of the schwag for the party, the Lab printed a book. It wasn’t big, just 6×6 inches and 32 pages, but it perfectly captured the mood and energy of the time.

The opening spread was an image, by David Small and Jacqueline Casey, of several 5s. It was rendered on the Lab’s Connection Machine running a simulation of pigments and water on paper fibers. The areas where the paper was most wet was shown using a varnish layer — this pattern was also used for the texture of the book’s cover. If you’re looking for trivia, the “watercolor” code used to generate the image was also used for a blood-splatter effect in Bob Sabiston’s Grinning Evil Death.

The Lab’s Mission Statement is as appropriate now as it was then — not just for the Lab but for all of us:

“Our charter is to invent and creatively exploit new media for human well-being and individual satisfaction without regard for present-day constraints. We employ super-computers and extraordinary input-output apparatus to experiment today with notions that will be common technologies tomorrow in areas as diverse as music and learning, entertainment, film, and quality of life in the coming electronic millennium. The not-so-hidden agenda is to drive technological inventions and break engineering deadlocks with new perspectives and demanding applications.”

Happy Birthday Media Lab.

(Below are a selection of pages from the book.)

Nicholas Negroponte

Stephen Benton
Walter Bender
Muriel Cooper and Ron MacNeil
Andrew Lippman