Five years ago when I received my ipod as a special birthday gift (its still alive and kicking) it changed the way I listened to music. Three years ago I started to use a Mac computer properly for the first time, and it changed not only the way I used that segment of technology but the way I saw the world too.
I’m not making big and bold philosophical statements here; it literally changed how I saw the world. It altered how I read magazines, absorbed advertisements and interacted with the host of visions that I saw in daily life. Steve Jobs taught me about beauty, function and purpose. He taught me about design.
I have owned a MacBook for two years, and I still think its pretty damn sexy. That’s not bad for a piece of technology now is it? Admittedly it has the same core skills as any other processor, but an ordinary computer just doesn’t get me excited. I could talk for a fair bit about how Steve Jobs’ innovative approach to technology has changed my life and how I live it, how it turned my focus away from the written word to the digital sphere and how it just makes living that bit more fun. But what I really want to pick up on today is a slightly more topical subject – education – and how Steve Jobs can be used as a success story today.
As tuition fees in Britain are set to treble for the next academic year I think our perception of what it means to be educated needs to change. Back in 1955 Steve Jobs was born to a post-grad college student who decided to put her baby up for adoption. She was adamant that her son should be raised by college graduates, determined that her child would have access to an education. At the last minute the parents she had chosen pulled out – and the replacement, Steve Jobs mother and father, had no college degree. The story goes that she didn’t sign the official adoption papers for a few months, and only did so when his parents promised that one day he would go to college.
And one day he did. But he dropped out. Not in a Mark Zuckerberg ‘I’m dropping out of Harvard to become a millionaire’ way, but because he didn’t see the point of wasting every penny his parents had saved on a rite of passage that he deemed of no use to himself at that time. He stayed around campus as a drop-in student, attending classes that interested him. As he said in his 2005 speech to Stanford University graduates (its well worth a read), its because of his decision to attend a calligraphy class that what we see and create on our computers is as varied as it is today.
By hanging around campus and dropping in only on classes that sounded interesting to him, Steve Jobs got an education. There was no official degree, no piece of paper at the end of it – but I’d trade my certificate in any day for his broad knowledge base, from which he has built one of the world’s most iconic brands.
I look back at my education and consider myself lucky. During my A-Levels I was taught about Politics, Sociology and Literature – never just how to pass my exams. Likewise I picked my university because it had a course that allowed a relatively large freedom of choice to pick and choose the subjects that appealed to me. But it had a long way to go, and I would have been better equipped for life if I had the opportunity to take modules across the board in law, geography and the sciences. It need not have been for credit, just for inspiration and the chance to learn something in a different way that could affect my life and learning in a practical way. I’ve touched on this briefly before, when I blogged about Mark Levene’s Transition Proposal and what it could mean for university curricula.
Last year it hit me how unprepared I am for life. I am part of a generation that are, for the most part, skill-less. More of us than ever have had access to a great education, but last year I had no clue how to grow my own food, make my own clothes or build a fire.
A year on and not much has changed. I don’t know how to build a fire, but I don’t have a fireplace or live in the country so that is currently understandable. I have never been able to sew very well but have made a conscious effort to buy as many of my clothes from charity shops as possible. Growing my own food is something that is easier said than done when you work long hours in between a commute and have commitments at the weekend, but what we eat has changed and is becoming more sustainable, although we still have a long way to go.
An education is not a formal process. University programmes form just a small part of our learning, but they have the potential to also be the ideal place for us to gain experience, knowledge and skills across the board. Sometimes inspiration comes from inside the classroom and sometimes it doesn’t. Give us the opportunity to broaden our horizons and maybe we will discover something new for ourselves and for the world.
I guess this is it. An abrupt end to a broad blog. Typed on my Mac. Accompanied by my ipod. Inspired by Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs – Stanford Speech [text and video]
What I couldn’t Say – Realigning the Stars [blog]
A Diary of a Mom – A Ding in the Universe [blog]