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SOURCE: Boston

A technology whiz strives to make life simpler
At home with MIT Professor John Maeda
By Katie Johnston, Globe Staff | August 26, 2004

John Maeda is a man with a lot on his mind. The MIT professor of media arts and sciences thinks about how to make technology simpler; he thinks about using the computer as a mode of expression rather than simply as a tool; he thinks about making digital art from Cheetos and sugar crystals.

Something the man Esquire magazine deemed one of the "21 most important people of the 21st century" doesn't think much about is decorating his home. And yet his house, on a shady corner lot in Lexington, has a style all its own.

Maeda, 38, puts the things that interest him where he can see them, many of them on the crowded mantel in the front room, where his computer is. There's a green plastic fork from a Swiss airline, a blue-jay feather in a plastic bag, a beetlelike seed pod he found floating in the water on Nantucket. A pit from a nectarine given to him 10 years ago by the late graphic-design pioneer Paul Rand made it home with Maeda to the mantel, as did a circular red-and-green "do not disturb" sign from a London hotel. "I just thought it was a beautiful circle," he says.

Drawings by his four daughters -- Mika, 12; Rie, 10; Saaya, 9; and Naoko, 2, who all share one bedroom -- are taped up around the two-story, three-bedroom house. Family photos lean against the wall under the mantel, framed in dry pasta wheels, beads, and shiny rocks. The plant on his desk is plastic and solar-powered, with leaves that flap like wings. In some places, function tops form, as with the lamp that has a shade fashioned from a Cool Whip container.

"This is more like a place to sleep," says Maeda, who nevertheless asks those who enter to take off their shoes, "Japanese style," before they walk on the hardwood floors. One day recently, three plates of cookies rested on the kitchen counter, waiting to be delivered to the children's soccer coaches. In the basement, near clothes drying on a line...

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