Steve Jobs on the Humanities

With the tragic passing of Steve Jobs, Apple’s visionary co-founder, the humanities have lost one of its most articulate advocates. Jobs often ended presentations standing in front of a slide displaying two street signs: “Liberal arts” and “Technology.”  “We’ve always tried to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts,” he would explain,” to be able to get the best of both.”

Jobs famously credited a calligraphy class he “dropped in” on at Reed College with planting the seeds for Apple’s elegant aesthetic:

It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.

According to Jobs, Apple’s success lay in this blending of the humanities and computing.  In a 1996 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, he said:

I think our major contribution was in bringing a liberal arts point of view to the use of computers… Our goal was to bring a liberal arts perspective and a liberal arts audience to what had traditionally been a very geeky technology and a very geeky audience.

He continued:

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.

This March, standing at the familiar intersection of “Technology” and “Liberal Arts” streets, Jobs issued a final statement:

Technology alone is not enough…It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that make our hearts sing.

2 thoughts on “Steve Jobs on the Humanities

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *