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The Tree of Tenere: a tragic reminder to just behave.

Tenere prototype

Source: http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1520372

In the paper “The Ténéré: Design for Supporting Energy Conservation Behaviors” researchers Ju-Whan KimYun-Kyung Kim, and Tek-Jin Nam from the Department of Industrial Design at KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology), we are presented the Ténéré, a small screen that is built into an electric power extension cord, which is meant to “support people’s energy conservation behaviors.”

The small screen depicts a tree that transforms in response to energy use, and is meant to build a connection between human activity and environmental destruction. The concept itself is quite poetic and requires a little bit of background to fully understand.

L’ Arbre du Ténéré (The Tree of Tenere), was a lone acacia tree once found in the Ténéré region of the Sahara in northeast Niger. It was considered the most isolated tree in the world, as the next nearest tree was more than 400 km away, until 1973 when the tree was apparently hit by a drunk driver (?!?). The tree was replaced by a somewhat tragic metal sculpture after it’s destruction, which now stands as an iconic representation of the unfortunate environmental consequences of some human activity.

With this in mind, the researchers designed two prototypes that include a graphical representation of acacia  tree that transforms to a sculpture when users consume an excess of electricity, thus triggering a sad reminder of the story of the the Tree of Tenere.

As you can see in Figure 1 and 2, they created two prototypes using the same graphical representation – one was a power extension cord and the other was a wall mounted display that acts as a modified wall socket.

It appears as if, at the time of the paper’s writing it had not been tested for its efficacy with actual users, though the authors do point out some considerations from the exercise of producing these designs – namely that the tool itself contributes to a certain increase in electrical usage, and that future designs should look to minimize this. Only a field study would determine if the energy use associated with the tool itself would be offset by greater energy savings as a consequence of proper use of the Ténéré.

The Tree of Tenere

Photo: The Tree of Ténéré in 1961. Michel Mazeau/ Wikimedia Commons

Ju-Whan Kim, Yun-Kyung Kim, and Tek-Jin Nam. (2009). “The ténéré: design for supporting energy conservation behaviors.” In Proceedings of the 27th international conference extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems (CHI EA ’09). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2643-2646.
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