Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology

Research Profile: Jay Vidyarthi, SIAT

December 06, 2011

We all know that technology has increased efficiency and productivity, but it can seem like those benefits have come at the cost of speeding events up so that we can't pause for contemplation in the midst of over-stimulation and endless wired distraction.

In his master's research project, Jay Vidyarthi asks, paradoxically, "Can technology be used to free us from the stress associated with information overload?"

His major thesis project is the Sonic Cradle, which allows people to shape music using their own respiration in complete darkness in an attempt to provide non-meditators with a meditative experience.

He says, "The goal of the project, and my hope for it, is a chance to demonstrate technology's potential to be engaging and 'immersive' without being overstimulating. This is very similar to the therapeutic practice of mindfulness meditation, a practice which cultivates the ability to devote all of one's focus and attention to rather subtle sensations (like breath). The Sonic Cradle is an interactive medium which shows us that a well-designed, minimalist system which embodies an understanding of human psychology can engage people in a way which provides psychological benefit. I hope to help light the way for more systems which reject the typical goals of productivity in favour of self-knowledge, inner peace and a sense of calm."

Jay is a musician and music informs his approach to technology. He says, "This intersection between music and meditation is the core of my being, and it is clearly represented in my research on new technologies. This realization came just as I was moving from my formal education in psychophysics and neuroscience at McGill University toward a more applied, practical approach: I got a job at Yu Centrik where I apply an understanding of the mind to improving human-computer interaction for industry clients." (He still works part-time for the company.)

At SFU's School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT), Jay found an environment willing to host alternative approaches to research and design. He says, "Here I am given the freedom and support to chase my own ideas and approaches to research problems."

He's already been remarkably active. In his first year, he completed and published work on the Sympathetic Guitar. in the process of designing the Sonic Cradle, he developed a new psychological framework for media "immersion" and presented it at SLSA2011, a prestigious conference in the humanities put on by Johns Hopkins University. He's just come back from exhibiting the Sonic Cradle at UCLA, and will be setting it up at TEDActive 2012, in Palm Springs.

Finally, he invites you to get involved. He's looking for participants to try the Sonic Cradle in its home at SIAT's SFU Surrey lab — email him at kvidyart@sfu.ca to volunteer. Or if you're sonically inclined, you may submit sounds to the Sonic Cradle through Jay's website.

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