September 12, 2014

In an era when a college education can easily run you a quarter-million dollars, shouldn't we embrace practical majors with high-paying jobs? And start to move away from the humanities?

Not according to Walter Isaacson.

Isaacson, the president of the Aspen Institute and author of four best-selling biographies, as well as a new book on digital innovators, believes that the greatest innovations are born from a marriage of the humanities and the sciences.

“People who can stand at the intersection of the humanities and technology are going to be the best-positioned to connect creativity to science and new technologies,” he says, echoing a similar sentiment as Steve Jobs, the subject of one of his biographies.

Jobs, who spearheaded the development of some of Apple’s most iconic products, had a deep understanding of computer science. But he also carved out time for less empirical pursuits – he took calligraphy and dance classes during his time at Reed College.

“Maybe those classes are why Jobs made the iPhone, and Gates made the Zune,” Isaacson says, referring to Microsoft’s failed attempt to challenge the iPod’s dominance of the portable media player market.

“If Bill Gates, who went to Harvard and took all those engineering and computer science courses, had taken a few humanities courses, somehow that art would have connected to the engineering,” Isaacson says. He cites web services like Uber and the news website Vox as further examples of products whose artful designs “capture our humanity.”

While Isaacson studied the humanities during his own college years, he grew up building radios and tinkering with circuits in his basement. “Everybody who loves the humanities should make an effort to understand some form of math, physics or engineering,” he says of his own technical pursuits.

“They’re just as beautiful.”

the Aspen Institute, Education, Walter Isaacson, innovation, humanities

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