In a speech to a design conference in 1983, Steve Jobs spoke about the importance of the design of personal computers. At the end of this post there’s a link to the full audio.
Jobs was speaking to this conference of designers about what computers looked like, and something more – how they fit into people’s lives. It’s a passionate lecture and one which underscores Jobs as a media theorist and philosopher as much as a technologist.
In his talk Jobs claims that in the future, people will be using computers more than ‘the automobile machine’, and they’ll become an integral part of people’s lives. The pronouncements are given some weight considering it was 1983 and they seemed more prophesy than practical reality.
However, it’s that very practical reality which sparked the passion in Jobs’ expressions. His predictions have proven to be true and perhaps even more than he had imagined at the time. Some people are using computers and devices far more than a few hours a day, with smartphones permeating their waking hours and interrupting their sleep.
While Jobs insists that the design of computers are beautiful because they are so much a part of our lives, he speaks to a broader point: technology must be based around our human experience.
At its basis, technology enhances and extends our human traits. To truly succeed as an augmentation, technology must conform itself to our very human nature. It must be human-centric, it must be natural.
We must not regress to an infinite loop where we suggest that technology itself has become a part of our existence and therefore we ought to conform our nature to it. The other side of the coin, to which Jobs was keenly aware, is that technology by its nature causes us to change our behavior and thereby conform our nature to it.
In this sense, something as seemingly innocuous as the design of a computer case has great meaning. Every decision made in the production of a technology product has to be in an effort towards human nature, to equal the pull of technology to alter human nature in the other direction.
I’m not suggesting that we run down to the factory and destroy all the looms, or halt technological progress. Technology holds the key to our coexistence on Earth, and human-centric technology is more important than ever.
The last 50 years of computing have been about the appearance of computers, the next 50 years will be about their disappearance.
While the physical objects we use to interact with computers continue to diminish in size, and disappear from our view, technology will continue to weave itself into our lives in unexpected ways. The point that Jobs was making is even more vital today.
We must ensure that our experience of technology is natural, for the preservation of the very thing that makes us who we are – humanity.
The full audio for Jobs’ speech is available on YouTube here