One sweltering windless night while having dinner outside in Burma, my ears were assaulted by a monk chanting scripture — with amplification. Too much amplification.
There was nothing to do but listen. And I’ll never forget the conversation I had with somebody nearby.
Me. What’s he saying?
Them: It’s a prayer.
Me: Yes, but about what?
Them: Can’t say, really. He’s chanting in Pali…
Pali is a dead language. It’s like the Latin of Southeast Asia. Or, one of the Latins of Southeast Asia. For scripture it’s still used, just like Ancient Arabic for the Koran or Latin and Greek for some Christian incantations.
I remember Joseph Campbell saying that there was no point translating Latin Masses to the vernacular because the same things happen each week and the process is so understandable it doesn’t matter if you don’t speak the language. The point there is that the dead language pulls you out of yourself by being different. I suppose that’s what recitation in Pali (with amplification) does as well.
The point of this blog post isn’t comparative religion but rather the idea that User Experience design (UX) has been around a long time all over the world. It just hasn’t been on a screen until recently. Good UX today, accompanied by great products, takes us out of ourselves and into a new world. The people who do it well are something else.