In recent years the humanities have been the Phoenix Suns; the Miami Marlins; the Arizona Cardinals; the Theresa May; the Sears, Roebuck, and Company, of the academy.
Science sexy. Technology steamy. Data analysis super hot. Religion, art history, English literature, philosophy, decidedly unsexy.
Partially due to the escalating costs of a university education, “What is the ROI—return on investment?” has replaced universal questions about the purposes of life and a life well lived that are the lifeblood of the humanities.
That is the context in which I read this Kara Swisher New York Times commentary titled “Is This the End of the Age of Apple?”
Swisher touches upon Apple’s recent struggles and asks:
“Where is the next great boom of innovation going to come from, when even the strongest brands and products might not be sure things anymore?”
“Now all of tech is seeking the next major platform and area of growth. Will it be virtual and augmented reality, or perhaps self-driving cars? Artificial intelligence, robotics, cryptocurrency or digital health? We are stumbling in the dark.”
She concludes by imploring:
“We need the next wave of innovation, and we need it now.”
Only if we concede to our President that everything is transactional and deem the humanities completely irrelevant, should we conclude we’re stumbling in the dark because a high profile technology company is struggling. As I write, Swisher has inspired 1,105 comments.
Dig the top rated one, as determined by New York Times readers, by “Childofsol” who resides in Alaska:
“No. What we definitely do not need is more technological innovation in the world of things. How about this: What would truly be innovative, is to develop an economy that isn’t based on endless growth and the mindless consumption that endless growth entails. We need to become a country that values its citizens, as evidenced by clean air and water, the right to health care, and the right to retirement security. A culture which reverses its headlong rush into ever-faster everything, and celebrates the art of living in harmony with the environment which supports us. That’s the kind of innovation we could use more of.”
Or the silver medal comment by “Berk” in Northern California:
“’Where is that next spark that will light us all up?’” A fantastic, memorable vacation? A good story? A great meal with friends? A walk in the woods on a crisp fall day? Experiences, not things.”
All of the top rated comments are similar. Clearly, if we can generalize from New York Times readers even a little, there’s serious skepticism about mindless technology. And a longing for some semblance of balance where the humanities rise from the mat before the quants hurriedly count to eight and declare a technical knockout.
That is heartening.