Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Thinking About Steve Jobs and the Marriage of the Humanities and Technology

Steve Jobs programming with an Apple I.

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of Steve Jobs’ death. I wrote about it last year when I was still in Kent, Ohio–right after my Dad called me to tell me the sad news.

Yesterday, I reflected on missing out on meeting and talking with Jobs–something that Scott Kurtz captured brilliantly on PvP. Growing up, I wanted to meet him–the natural element, the force of nature, the man who led his company to create “insanely great” things that enabled people to be creative in the digital age. However, I didn’t want to meet him in passing. I wanted to make or do insanely great things myself–things worthy of his admiration and interest. I suppose I’m still working on those insanely great things, and I unfortunately missed my window of opportunity to accomplish those things while Jobs was still with us. Nevertheless, his inspiration lives on and it drives me.

Yesterday, Apple debuted a fitting tribute video to Steve Jobs’ legacy–Apple’s inheritance. To borrow Michael Stipe’s words out of context, it was “a right pretty song.” I snapped the pictures at the top and bottom of the post from that video. I decided to keep the frame of Mac OS X, because it just seemed right.

Yesterday, I thought about something Jobs says in the video. He says, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.” This was from Jobs’ surprise appearance to introduce the iPad 2 on March 2, 2011.

Today, the obvious need for the humanities to be infused in our technologies is lost, I believe, on many people–particularly other technology innovators and so-called “education innovators,” who fight for STEM to the exclusion of all other ares of study. It extends also to education debates taking place right now in the United States. At the recent presidential debates, there was mention made of the need for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, but there was no mention of the humanities. How can we produce top rate engineers without instilling them with the ability to communicate effectively, the ability to think critically, the ability to argue rhetorically, the ability to think ethically, the ability to recognize and appreciate human difference, and the ability to situate themselves and their work within historical, cultural, and social networks? STEM is obviously one half of the solution, but the humanities and all that we have to offer are the other half of creating a total solution. If we choose to ignore the interconnection and interdependence of STEM and the humanities, we will not create an “insanely great” future. Instead, we will destroy the legacy of insanely great innovators, leaders, and teachers who worked so hard to give us a present time that could lead to a brilliant future.

Tomorrow, we will reflect on the choices that we make today. We have to seize this opportunity to work collaboratively and integratively towards that future. If we ignore this opportunity today, tomorrow we will regret our choice: “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away/Now it looks as though they’re here to stay/Oh, I believe in yesterday” (John Lennon and Paul McCartney).

Steve Jobs looks toward the sky next to Apple’s flagship store in New York City.

 

Stephen Wolfram Remembering Steve Jobs in the Guardian, Me Thinking About Mathematica

Mathematica is one of my favorite tools. I first learned about it (version 2–it is now version 8) as an undergraduate at Georgia Tech. I learned how to use it in the computer labs, but I wanted to use it in my dorm room. Unfortunately, I was reminded about the necessity of a floating-point unit to using complex calculating software at a speed faster than a sliderule; my Apple Powerbook 145B was woefully underpowered, lacking the necessary FPU that would have made Mathematica fly. As it was, I plotted one curve and it took 45 minutes to complete the operation. It was shortly after that that I upgraded to a Power Macintosh 8500, which significantly sped things along.

Mathematica was originally built by an exquisitely smart fellow named Steven Wolfram. I had the pleasure of meeting him at Georgia Tech when he come for a visit and lecture–I believe talking about his work thus far on what become his book A New Kind of Science and the upcoming release of Mathematica 3. Even though I probably didn’t say anything of substance or intelligence when I met him, he was still very polite and cordial to me.

Apparently, Mathematica’s development paralleled Steve Job’s work on the NeXT computer and then his return to Apple. Wolfram has some nice things to say about Jobs and his influence on Mathematica in the Guardian here.

“Altars” for Steve Jobs in China and Taiwan, Built with Walter Isaacson’s Biography of the Tech Titan

Taiwanese Home Guy Lucifer posted photos from around China and Taiwan of “altars” for Steve Jobs built out of his official biography by Walter Isaacson. They aren’t really altars, but they have a striking similarity to the kinds of altars a family would build for a deceased relative. A traditional altar for a deceased relative would include photos of the deceased, incense, flowers, and white candles. Go here to see all of the photos that Lucifer posted–I have included only one to the left.

PBS to Air Steve Jobs, One Last Thing on November 2

According to the Unofficial Apple Weblog, PBS will air Steve Jobs, One Last Thing, a new documentary with a special, unseen interview with Jobs on November 2–check local listings for the time. Find out more about the documentary here: PBS to air Steve Jobs documentary | TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog.

In the meantime, I will get back to reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs on my iPad.

Fitting Internet Memorials to Steve Jobs

Today, the world responded en masse to remember Steve Jobs. My own sadness was lifted on seeing and hearing the many wonderful things that people said and did in memory of Jobs.

Of the Internet-based memorials, I was happy to see BoingBoing’s System 7-like theme for their WordPress-based blog:

And the one that I consider the most touching was Richard Steven’s “Goodbye” on his retro webcomic Diesel Sweeties [permanent link here]:

I made a screenshot of the page, because the permanent page omits his nice remarks: “RIP Steve. Thanks for the future.” For all of the science fiction that I have read, I believe that Stevens is right that Jobs’ tenacious and innovative push for computer technology brought us kicking and screaming into a bright, shiny, and, dare I say it, human future. His idea was a computer for the rest of us, but its roots, even before he returned to the company in the  1990s, were still firmly in the hacker and trickster past of his own shenanigans with the inimitable Steven Wozniak.

I’m still thinking about what to say here on dynamicsubspace.net about Jobs’ passing. Y and I have talked a lot about it last night and today, because we both respected him a lot. Much of who I am now was modeled on Jobs’ inspiration and his insanely great computers and personal digital technologies. I will write more on this later.