One evening, when I was an undergraduate student in the UK, I met a friend in a state of mild shock. He was studying Politics at the time and hoping to soon begin an illustrious career making important decisions for the country. As he had been walking across campus that afternoon, somebody had stopped him to ask where the Computer Science department could be found.
“How on earth should I know?” he had replied indignantly (or words to that effect!) Do I look really look like a computer geek?
20 years on we are all computer geeks and proud to be so. This is perhaps the greatest social legacy of Steve Jobs. It is evident both in higher education and in society in general?
From sugared water to changing the world
In 1983, when Jobs was trying to entice John Sculley away from PepsiCo to join Apple it is said that he convinced him by asking one key question.
“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”
In fact, it is probably Bill Gates that has slightly more influence of the world. This is no more apparent than in higher education. Students arrive with PCs, rather than with Macs, Microsoft’s PowerPoint has a near totally monopoly for a presentation of any kind. When video is required Real Player is much easier to use than other forms of technology. This is mainly due to the different strategies that were pursued by Microsoft and Apple. Gate’s logic was to create a product that was “just good enough”. Technological imperfections would be accepted. The idea was to get the product onto the market as quickly as possible and thereby impose the standards that other would be forced to follow. Jobs on the other hand was a perfectionist. In the 1980s this cost Apple dearly in its fight with Microsoft. However, after his return to the company in 1997 he showed his genius by taking products invented by others and making them as simple as possible to use. The mp3 player was quite tricky to use; Jobs made it into a gadget that anyone from 5 to 85 could use.
It is this ability that has turned us all into geeks. Technical wizards are no longer greasy haired nerds with no social attributes. In fact, they are the coolest guys around. They are the first to help us find free music and films. They know all about crazy needs apps or the most fun and addictive games. They can make you life quicker And simpler. They are the people we call when our computers are not behaving themselves (i.e we haven’t got a clue what we are doing) And if you are smart you will realize that in a company you need the IT department far more than they need you! (In the short term, at least)
Proud to be a geek
This is what has changed in the last 20 years. No longer would my political friend be fired up with indignation at being taken for a computer geek. Like the rest of us, he has no doubt become as just as enthusiastic. And this is likely to continue. The irony is that Steve Jobs has left us at a time when several decades of Wintel domination in the computer industry may be coming to a close. Smartphone and tablet computers are now beginning to steal market share from PCs. Whatever the technology, we will be buying it with heaps of enthusiasm. Jobs, as have others, has made us all geeks together.
International Affairs in Higher Education