Storm's Journal

--| Steve Jobs on Television and Education |--- 

You watch television to turn your brain off 
and you work on your computer 
when you want to turn your brain on. 
(Steve Jobs, Macworld, Feb 2004) 

Steve Jobs: The Next Insanely Great Thing
Interview by Gary Wolf, Wired Magazine, February 1996.

Rethinking Revolution

What's the biggest surprise this technology will deliver?

The problem is I'm older now, I'm 40 years old, and this stuff
doesn't change the world. It really doesn't.

That's going to break people's hearts.

I'm sorry, it's true. Having children really changes your view on
these things. We're born, we live for a brief instant, and we die.
It's been happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it
much - if at all.

These technologies can make life easier, can let us touch people we
might not otherwise. You may have a child with a birth defect and be
able to get in touch with other parents and support groups, get
medical information, the latest experimental drugs. These things can
profoundly influence life. I'm not downplaying that. But it's a
disservice to constantly put things in this radical new light - that
it's going to change everything. Things don't have to change the
world to be important.

The Web is going to be very important. Is it going to be a
life-changing event for millions of people? No. I mean, maybe. But
it's not an assured Yes at this point. And it'll probably creep up
on people.

It's certainly not going to be like the first time somebody saw a
television. It's certainly not going to be as profound as when
someone in Nebraska first heard a radio broadcast. It's not going to
be that profound.

Then how will the Web impact our society?

We live in an information economy, but I don't believe we live in an
information society. People are thinking less than they used to.
It's primarily because of television. People are reading less and
they're certainly thinking less. So, I don't see most people using
the Web to get more information. We're already in information
overload. No matter how much information the Web can dish out, most
people get far more information than they can assimilate anyway.

The problem is television?

When you're young, you look at television and think, There's a
conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when
you get a little older, you realize that's not true. The networks
are in business to give people exactly what they want. That's a far
more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the
bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in
business to give people what they want. It's the truth.

So Steve Jobs is telling us things are going to continue to get

They are getting worse! Everybody knows that they're getting worse!
Don't you think they're getting worse?

I do, but I was hoping I could come here and find out how they were
going to get better. Do you really believe that the world is getting
worse? Or do you have a feeling that the things you're involved with
are making the world better?

No. The world's getting worse. It has gotten worse for the last 15
years or so. Definitely. For two reasons. On a global scale, the
population is increasing dramatically and all our structures, from
ecological to economic to political, just cannot deal with it. And
in this country, we seem to have fewer smart people in government,
and people don't seem to be paying as much attention to the
important decisions we have to make.

But you seem very optimistic about the potential for change.

I'm an optimist in the sense that I believe humans are noble and
honourable, and some of them are really smart. I have a very
optimistic view of individuals. As individuals, people are
inherently good. I have a somewhat more pessimistic view of people
in groups. And I remain extremely concerned when I see what's
happening in our country, which is in many ways the luckiest place
in the world. We don't seem to be excited about making our country a
better place for our kids.

The people who built Silicon Valley were engineers. They learned
business, they learned a lot of different things, but they had a
real belief that humans, if they worked hard with other creative,
smart people, could solve most of humankind's problems. I believe
that very much.

I believe that people with an engineering point of view as a basic
foundation are in a pretty good position to jump in and solve some
of these problems. But in society, it's not working. Those people
are not attracted to the political process. And why would somebody

Could technology help by improving education?

I used to think that technology could help education. I've probably
spearheaded giving away more computer equipment to schools than
anybody else on the planet. But I've had to come to the inevitable
conclusion that the problem is not one that technology can hope to
solve. What's wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology.
No amount of technology will make a dent.

It's a political problem. The problems are sociopolitical. The
problems are unions. You plot the growth of the NEA [National
Education Association] and the dropping of SAT scores, and they're
inversely proportional. The problems are unions in the schools. The
problem is bureaucracy. I'm one of these people who believes the
best thing we could ever do is go to the full voucher system.

I have a 17-year-old daughter who went to a private school for a few
years before high school. This private school is the best school
I've seen in my life. It was judged one of the 100 best schools in
America. It was phenomenal. The tuition was $5,500 a year, which is
a lot of money for most parents. But the teachers were paid less
than public school teachers - so it's not about money at the teacher
level. I asked the state treasurer that year what California pays on
average to send kids to school, and I believe it was $4,400. While
there are not many parents who could come up with $5,500 a year,
there are many who could come up with $1,000 a year.

If we gave vouchers to parents for $4,400 a year, schools would be
starting right and left. People would get out of college and say,
"Let's start a school." You could have a track at Stanford within
the MBA program on how to be the businessperson of a school. And
that MBA would get together with somebody else, and they'd start
schools. And you'd have these young, idealistic people starting
schools, working for pennies.

They'd do it because they'd be able to set the curriculum. When you
have kids you think, What exactly do I want them to learn? Most of
the stuff they study in school is completely useless. But some
incredibly valuable things you don't learn until you're older - yet
you could learn them when you're younger. And you start to think,
What would I do if I set a curriculum for a school?

God, how exciting that could be! But you can't do it today. You'd be
crazy to work in a school today. You don't get to do what you want.
You don't get to pick your books, your curriculum. You get to teach
one narrow specialization. Who would ever want to do that?

These are the solutions to our problems in education. Unfortunately,
technology isn't it. You're not going to solve the problems by
putting all knowledge onto CD-ROMs. We can put a Web site in every
school - none of this is bad. It's bad only if it lulls us into
thinking we're doing something to solve the problem with education.

Lincoln did not have a Web site at the log cabin where his parents
home-schooled him, and he turned out pretty interesting. Historical
precedent shows that we can turn out amazing human beings without
technology. Precedent also shows that we can turn out very
uninteresting human beings with technology.

It's not as simple as you think when you're in your 20s - that
technology's going to change the world. In some ways it will, in
some ways it won't.


See Also: 

- What the Times Entail

- Cringley - The Best Revenge

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SUBMIT AN ARTICLE posted: february 28, 2005 updated: february 10, 2007