Friday, October 7, 2011

A Liberal Arts View of Technology

Your MatchGirl knows that everyone and their mother has been posting about Steve Jobs the past couple of days. And your MatchGirl, given yesterday's post, is no different.

Some posts have been received in controversy. Some have brought tears to people's eyes.. And no matter what you think of Steve Jobs the man, I don't think, gentle readers, that anyone can deny that his point of view changed the way that millions of people approach - and are able to approach - technology. And through that, the world.

A little story for you, dear readers: My grandfather owned a store in the White Mountains of New Hampshire - it was one of those stores where you could buy your groceries, your snow shovel and a new toy for your kid. It was three stories and served people from the many small towns in the area. And I remember walking into the office one day and there was a computer running the show. It was a Macintosh SE. And, while it didn't last long at the store (I can't recall what followed it), it came home with my family and I wrote term papers, mediocre short stories and my college applications on it over the next five years. I learned to play around on MacPaint and MacDraw and, later, on faster computers (with actual internal hard drives) got pretty good with Quark, too. I wrote my first emails on a Macintosh LC.

That's not really the point of this essay, though. So many of you have had a similar experience. So many of you have a first time-Mac story that is part of your personal history.

The point of that little story about the SE - that's more about my Grampa. He heard that the Mac was the best and he wanted the best. I can't recall why he gave it to us, and he's not around any longer to ask. But I do know that in 1998, when that Bondi Blue iMac came out, my Grampa, aged 78, drove two hours to the closest store selling them and took one home.

Listening to Fresh Air on NPR on Thursday night, they replayed part of a 1996 interview with Steve Jobs, where he said, to paraphrase, that he wanted to bring "a liberal arts point of view to the use of computers." He didn't want people to feel confused when setting them up or using them. He wanted them to be intuitive and part of the whole. A liberal arts education is focused on bringing all the parts of academia together to make a whole, a better, person, and, to me, it seems that's what Steve Jobs wished for Apple to bring to computing.
"In my perspective ... science and computer science is a liberal art, it's something everyone should know how to use, at least, and harness in their life. It's not something that should be relegated to 5 percent of the population over in the corner. It's something that everybody should be exposed to and everyone should have mastery of to some extent, and that's how we viewed computation and these computation devices."
It's too soon, in my opinion, to see what Steve Jobs' legacy will truly be. He's left behind some amazing innovation. He's left us looking at technology, and what it can be, in an entirely different light. But making computers something that almost everyone has, that everyone can figure out how to use, sometimes with just a swipe of their finger, that will be one of them. Making computers things that are not only great to know how to use, but a coveted and cool part of one's arsenal, that's another.

The ability to stay connected to what matters most to us - that's a pretty nice something to leave behind.


  1. How many individuals death, let alone CEO's, give you pause to ponder their impact on your life? Nicely done, Briana.

  2. Thanks so much, Alan. Appreciate the comment!