Why Did Apple Lose Its Humanities?

The case for maintaining a connection to the liberal arts. Even if you’re the biggest company in the world.

Why Did Apple Lose Its Humanities?
[Image: Flickr user Marthin Sühl]

Ever since the passing of Steve Jobs, some folks have felt that Apple has lost its rudder. If you listen to the arguments of noted tech blogger Ben Thompson, you’ll discover that’s because the company that famously asked us to Think Different has lost its connection to the foundations of critical thinking–the liberal arts.


As you may recall, back in 2010 Jobs said that the “reason that Apple is able to create products like the iPad is because we’ve always tried to be at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts,” that they can make technologically advanced products that are intuitive and fun to use, that the users don’t have to come to the products–the products come to the users.

A year–and an iPad iteration–later, Jobs expanded on that point:

It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. That it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing. And nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices. And a lot of folks in this tablet market are rushing in and they’re looking at this as the next PC. The hardware and the software are done by different companies, and they’re talking about speeds and feeds just like they did with PCs. And our experience and every bone in our body says that that is not the right approach to this.

Does Apple still have that insight?

According to Thompson, they don’t: Apple’s aligned itself with the discipline of design rather than of the humanities. iOS 7, which you may be fussing with as you read this, provides a primary case study to Thompson, for while the OS is gorgeous, it “absolutely compromises a certain level of intuitiveness and consideration in the pursuit of beauty.”

But it’s not just with design that Apple has lost its human(ities) touch: Thompson notes that while during his latest iPad introduction, CEO Tim Cook said that Apple wants to help people create “even more amazing stories” with the help of the new launch, he didn’t go into the stories. He started boasting of the “speeds and feeds” that Jobs warned of. Which could be troubling.

So why would the humanities help?

Because they make you more empathic. Why? Because literature lets you demo other peoples’ minds in the comfy confines of your own. Because social science trains you to observe and understand people, rather than bash them with speeds and feeds–which is maybe why so many corporations are bringing in anthropologists.

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.