06 October 2011
By Sandrine Berges
By now most bloggers will have planned their Steve Jobs post, at least in their head. About how he was too young to die, how his genius changed the way we use computers and phones, how good the iPad is for researchers, or people who travel, about how I wish I had one, or an iPhone, or a MacBook Air, or all three.
We've all received the Steve Jobs videos on our Facebook accounts, the Think Different one, and the Stanford Commencement speech, and the one which shows how autistic kids can learn to communicate via the iPad. They're all great, but we've seen them before.
But one thing I, for one, haven't really given much thought to before is that little anecdote Steve Jobs tells in his Commencement speech. He'd had to give up his university place because it was too costly. But he stuck around and took course that caught his interest. One of them was calligraphy, in which he learnt all about beautiful fonts. Then, when he and his team created the first Apple computers, this was one of the things that stood out: they had beautiful fonts. And then, as they created new stuff, their products always stood out from anyone else's for aesthetic reasons. Apple not only made computers that worked pretty well, but it didn't make you want to kill yourself to look at them. That was part of their image, part of the reason people even know are loyal to them. But nothing to do with computing or IT. In fact, one might think it was completely random that Steve Jobs decided to take that course in calligraphy and thought of way to integrate it in his work later on.
Was it, though? How many of you would say that what makes your research as good as it is sometimes has more to do with the kind of person you are outside of your research than the training you received in your area. Is there even a case to be made for taking time out of research to develop hobbies or other interests that may, some day, feed in to our real work? Do our outside interests give our research a certain richness that it might otherwise lack, or does it just give our work a superficial quirkiness that is best avoided? What is your experience with this?