• Ana Maria Cardenas shops with the aid of one of MIT graduate student James Patten's inventions, now on view at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

    Ana Maria Cardenas shops with the aid of one of MIT graduate student James Patten's inventions, now on view at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

    Photo / James Patten

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Student's work on view at MoMA

Ana Maria Cardenas shops with the aid of one of MIT graduate student James Patten's inventions, now on view at New York's Museum of Modern Art.


"When you go shopping, do you wish you knew more about the companies that made the foods you buy?"

Thus begins a tongue-in-cheek video for the "Swipe 'n' Gripe," one of a series of "Corporate Fallout Detectors," developed by Media Lab graduate student James Patten and now on view at New York's Museum of Modern Art as part of an exhibition titled, "SAFE: Design Takes on Risk." Designed for consumers to bring to the grocery store, the device scans bar codes and makes a clicking noise based on the environmental or ethical record of the manufacturer, thus concretizing issues of corporate accountability and individual choice.

The first major design exhibition at MoMA since the museum reopened in November 2004, "SAFE" presents more than 300 contemporary products and prototypes designed, according to MoMA's web site, "to protect body and mind from dangerous or stressful circumstances, respond to emergencies, ensure clarity of information, and provide a sense of comfort and security."

Patten says his creation is a "completely real, functioning device" containing a database with information on the ethical and environmental records of thousands of companies.

"For some people, the clicking sound it makes brings back ominous memories of Geiger counters sold to the public in the Cold War era," he says. "The hope is that hearing this sound, combined with the sight of someone scrutinizing products in a store, will cause people to think about their buying decisions in a different way."

The show runs through Jan. 3.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 2, 2005 (download PDF).


Topics: Media Lab, Arts, Students

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