The Technology/Humanities Pendulum

The Technology/Humanities Pendulum

As I read Steve Jobs biography I became very interested in just how non-technical he was.  Don’t get me wrong; he had a grasp for technology and probably as much engineering skills (hardware and software) as most people in technology, but he didn’t become Steve Jobs and Apple didn’t become Apple because of his technical ability.  Apple became the world’s largest company because of Steve Jobs ability to apply an artistic flare that made the technology more accessible, less intimidating to the masses.  Essentially Jobs real talent was not in advancing technology, but in advancing humanities.

What I have been thinking about lately is WHY this was the case.  Why is Apple the worlds largest company instead of a company (say Intel or IBM or Cray or Cisco) that’s better at making technology achieve new feats of speed or size?  The answer that I’ve come to is that computers, and many other fields where the raw sphere of possibilities is advancing, grow in phases.  For a little while there is growth in technical capabilities; the micro-chip is invented and then powered to go faster, display screens get smaller, memory capacities advance, etc…  At some point the technology stops becoming the limiting factor.  It’s at that point that the creative/artistic/humanities people need to begin to come up with more/better ways to use the technologies that are in front of them.  It’s the creatives that can look at a 3″ hard drive and see an iPod, read a text and envision Twitter, understand that 4G doesn’t change how fast we do things on a phone, it changes WHAT we do on the phone.

Apple is the largest company in the world because we don’t primarily need faster/smaller right now we need more functional/easier to use.  I think we’re going to be in that mode for a while, but at some point the speed of the ideas will outpace the technical advances and the pendulum will reverse.