Postmodern Computing (Summit)

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 7.03.42 AM

Steve Jobs famously said that Apple stands at the intersection of of Technology and the Liberal Arts. He said it more than once because he thought it was an important distinction of the company.

In an intuitive way, the message may have gotten through to the average person, but I don’t think professional observers and managers of technology have quite grasped what he meant.

It’s not a glib throw-away marketing phrase. I can imagine many other, more evocative ways of saying that Apple blends the hard and the soft; the heart and mind, if you will.

His choice of words makes me believe that he meant it as a fundamental blending of two disparate and considered-opposite concepts, rather like yin-yang: things which do not naturally mix but which are complementary, interconnected, interdependent, and give rise to each other.

This interaction however is not well understood and even more rarely exploited. The reason they don’t mix well in business in particular is that individuals are typically not trained in both. Our education systems (from where these phrases originate) are unwilling or incapable of providing us with a grounding in both, so individuals tend to absorb only one or the other.

But it turns out that the interaction between these nominal opposites have determined our world to date and will continue to determine our fate. A cursory review of history shows that the “soft”, perceptive and feeling-based disciplines always combined with the analytical and judgmental to create a future which neither could create alone.

I note how Apple uses this combination to an advantage and have also used this methodology myself to understand and sense the future. Taking this method further, I would like to share it with others. I would like to recognize some faint but powerful patterns and bare some of the more audacious conclusions of my analysis.

The method chosen is a forum we are convening called The Post Modern Computing Summit.

It’s a small gathering where we are inviting the most enlightened thinkers of the future of computing to lead us into its next age, and perhaps, tentatively, the next era of civilization.[1]

  1. We’ll also answer the questions of where tablets are going, and where they will takes us, what is the future of apparel computing, what does intimate computing mean and who will benefit and who won’t. []
  • verec

    Any significance to “Technology” at 600 and “Liberal Arts” at 1500? Was Apple’s message that they are twice (or so) as much a Technology company than Artsy one? And what of those numbers indeed, why not 6 and 15 respectively? Any nuance worth thinking about?

    • johnsjacob

      Those are the block numbers at the famous intersection of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco. I wouldn’t read any more meaning to the numbers than that.

      • stefnagel

        Nice get.

    • obarthelemy

      Any number that’s not 42 doesn’t cut it anyway.

  • boxed

    The title doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the body of the text. Maybe you mean postpostmodernism? Or just modernism? It’s a bit confusing…

    • dorkus_maximus


  • stefnagel

    Suggestion: Use the summit to coin a name and frame for what’s going on.

    It’s more than merely mobile; it’s personal in a way PCs never were. Pebbles in your pocket are mobile; your wallet is mobile and important. Your car keys are mobile and useful.

    And it’s a lot more than computing. It’s not hacking or programming; it’s about connection, communication, cooperation, conversation.

    Postmobile networking
    Postcomputer communication
    Interpersonal networking
    Campfire computing

  • michael

    “the most enlightened thinkers of the future of computing to lead us into its next age”

    And it looks like only one (maybe two) of these “thinkers” has any past software development experience… That worries me. It also doesn’t inspire confidence when your summit web page doesn’t even have a TITLE tag set.

  • Accent_Sweden

    Will the revolution be streamed?

    • mactechgeek

      Well, that would be interesting! Of course, there are technical hurdles to take and it could kill some incentives for the on-site audience. But an (affordably priced) paid live-stream option would make for an excellent counter-weight to that elitist taste the invitation left behind 😉

      Seriously, that would be awesome!

  • ralphel

    Call me curmudgeonly, but there’s a not entirely endearing whiff of hocus-pocus, not to say overblown grandiosity, about this.

    “We are inviting the most enlightened thinkers of the future of computing to lead us into its next age”. Well, I’m sure you/Bajarin/Brody/Gassée/Thompson are fine fellows all (although it’s surprising that such a postmodern undertaking has not yet got the memo about women in tech, especially when it’s intersecting with the liberal arts) but I’m not quite sure I’d classify them as the “most enlightened thinkers” or entrust/burden them with the Moses-like rôle you’re assigning to them.

    The flyer to which you link encourages readers to “be one of the 30 leaders who will effect the change”, while announcing that the price of admission is a mere $2800. Can we really be sure that the set of people willing to shell out that sum for this 7-hour wonder-event on June 4th is in fact identical to the set of those who will effect the miraculous change of which you speak? Are there no poor people capable of rendering this great service to mankind? Is there some numerological principle unfamiliar to me which dictates that 30 is the precise number of people required for this task?

    • You’re curmudgeonly.

      • mactechgeek

        He is, indeed, but I’ve gotta say that “there’s a not entirely endearing whiff of hocus-pocus, not to say overblown grandiosity, about this” is pretty much exactly what I felt, too. I think the subject matter is indeed very fascinating and worth exploring more in-depth, so much that it should be able to stand on its own legs. But it’s that final paragraph in particular which blows it all out of proportion and straight into PR-talk-wonderland. The wording just seems totally out-of-place here on your site. So please take this as a compliment, Horace. Having read so many brilliant and well-rounded pieces from you, I simply feel that you can do/write better than that.

        Anyways, have a great summit!

      • I shall not apologize in the least about the final paragraph. I chose the wording carefully.

      • mactechgeek

        You should not, most definitely. Instead, I’d like to apologize. Wording like “better than that” and “PR-talk-wonderland” seems pretty harsh in hindsight, almost offensive. That wasn’t my intention.

      • jinglesthula

        lol – deft reply.

        @ralphel:disqus I think regardless of being primarily an analyst a person is allowed the usual bag of marketing tools for promoting an event. Take the language for what it is: different than Horace’s usual tack.

  • scot mcphee

    Looking at the contents of the summit, how can any of it be said to be “post-modern”? It all looks distinctly like high-modernity to me: the idea of socio-technological progress pointing forward from the past to the (predictable) future.

    The word “postmodern” is already highly loaded and contested in both the (sometimes hostile) humanities and (usually hostile) science. But it has come to mean a highly specific set of meanings: a specific style of after-modern architecture; the social project of capitalism that occurred in the postwar years; that meaning is contingent on cultural forces and not intrinsic to the object or its author (this is what is often meant by ‘relativism’); the dereferencing of once-monolithic cultural referents (in the West); that “texts” can be “read” in ways that subvert the meaning of the author, and so on.

    You’ve essentially tacked on a word to your summit because you thought it sounded cool without considering what the word *means*. Perhaps this is what you mean by “postmodern”?

    To someone like me, who is well trained in both the arts and an engineering discipline, it’s hocus-pocus on both counts.

    • The content is not fully exposed in the description. To do so would spoil the surprise. To someone well trained in both the arts and an engineering discipline it sounds like jumping to conclusions.

      • scot mcphee

        Horace, of course I can I only read what’s on the website, and I have to evaluate it on the basis of what you say about it there. It’s just like an abstract for a conference paper: I use the abstract to determine if I go to that session or to another one. If I detect in the abstract a certain amount of unexplained imprecision in the terminology it uses (especially if it appears to employ specialist jargon incorrectly), naturally the session will be marked down, in my mind, and in the minds of the other specialists who are at the conference.

        So of course I jump to conclusions in order to be able to discriminate the use of one’s time.

        If I wrote a paper saying I was going to show the postmodernist aspirations of the Roman poet Horace in the *Carmina* (just to pick an example from my own field), I would be expected to give some sort of brief justification in the abstract. If I wrote he was postmodern because he thought the world was progressing from a state of less development to more, I could probably expect some rather pointed questions at the end of the paper about my understanding of postmodernism (it being Classics, I could expect a bunch of hostile questions about my use of Continental Theory in any case, no matter my precision).

  • Bruce_Mc

    Is this event soaking up some of the bandwidth previously used for Airshow? I notice the Airshow website says you are looking for a May location. Perhaps you may want to change that to July.

    • Farshad Nayeri

      @Bruce_Mc:disqus , We will soon be making new Airshow updates as well.

  • obarthelemy

    I have the hardest time not seeing this as fluff. Granted, IT has moved from technical to professional to general public users, increasing the need for ease of use and pleasant design. I don’t think there’s more to it than that, only the psychological pathology that makes people need to show up their peers or at least reinforce their belongingness by buying the right stuff. Hence the need for a “premium” category that is mostly self-anointed, distinguishable by price and random attributes (glass phones ? really ?), and scrambling for ex-post rationales about how their stuff is magical.
    We see it in cars, clothes, handbags, furniture, even pets. I know from experience that bourgeois Burberry’s aficionados dislike being told that their passion is strictly equivalent to other side of the tracks’ Adidas compulsives, and both companies have lots of people paid to wax lyrical about their products. But really, same difference.
    This mechanism reaching IT is a bit sad for us old-timer geeks, but a ransom of success. Is there a need to blow it up though ?

    • JaneDoe12

      Postmodern is much more than ease of use and pleasant design. Here’s the best example that I can think of:

      In 2009, Apple filed a patent for a seamlessly embedded heart rate monitor for the iPhone or iPod touch [1]. Then on December 24, 2013 they were granted it [2]. In the patent, they said that they can determine the user’s mood from the cardiac signals, and from the extrapolated mood they can create a playlist [3].

      So here Apple can blend the hard with the soft—technology with the heart and soul of music. And the interaction of these opposites can create a device that neither could create alone.

      This subject is very thought provoking. Not blown up at all.

      1. Seamlessly Embedded Heart Rate Monitor. US Patent and Trademark Office. May 6, 2010.
      2. Campbell M. Apple patents accurate touch and hover panel, embedded heart rate monitor. AppleInsider. December 24, 2013.
      3. Patent. Paragraph [0053].

    • R1cho

      You must be a long way from the intersection, or even the same state by the looks of it.

    • MarkS2002

      It is always sad to see someone who used to be someone constantly complaining about the same thing whenever possible. “The darned kids these days: who can understand them, anyway?” if you have nothing better to do with your life, at this point, than complain about the dead Steve Jobs, as though he were still around to piss you off, then perhaps you need to take a look at that crossroads and spend more time with the Liberal Arts. Maybe some Art History or Music Appreciation to take your mind off of how irrelavant your old skills now are. I don’t mean to be purposefully insulting; but whenever your name shows up in the comments, here, you can count on it being to highlight some failing you perceive with Apple. Find something you like and spend your time extolling it, rather than becoming just another anti-Apple troll.

      • obarthelemy

        At least my posts are on topic. Yours isn’t, and is pure ad hominem, which is always pathetic, and in this case, very ironic. Learn to disagree ?

  • berult

    Jobsian postmodern concept: verse’atility…a verse utility.

  • R1cho

    That didn’t seem to last long…

    • Farshad Nayeri

      Site is back. Sorry about the glitch.

  • orienteer

    Call me a pretentious ass, but I have no trouble grasping Horace’s “fluff”. Maybe worth revisiting:

  • Jolie Jolie

    Enlightened thinkers? Everyone thought Steve jobs was some crazy, filthy hippy when he started apple. But he was the one who created the PC future and your future.

    You’ve invited your friends to the party to talk about the future and their future. It’s the same paved road from the past without any forks or mountains beyond which are wizards creating things the party can’t perceive. Because they’re the establishment.

    • Future Star

      Jean Louise Gassee an enlightened thinker? He engineered Steve’s removal from apple. Now he wants to paint the picture of the future.

      No one would ever believe this scenario 30 years ago.

      Mirror mirror on the wall. Who’s the most enlightened one of them all! You! Master!