Steve Jobs and the modern hunger for beauty

In a world of computers as dreary beige boxes, the (in many ways underfeatured) iMac appeared as a glass of water in an aesthetic desert, and consumers rushed to it with the energy of despair. When Jobs bought Pixar, the original business plan was to sell their impressive technology and use the groundbreaking animations simply as a showcase of what their technology could do, but Jobs found a much better business model making beautiful works of art. I’ll bet you I’m not the only person who has found himself repairing to an Apple Store not to buy or even to peruse the merchandise, but simply because I wanted to be in a beautiful place.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said that when Jobs handed him the reins, he told him, “Don’t try to do what I would have done. Just do what’s right.” And it’s perfectly possible to imagine Jobs meaning the same thing by saying “Just do what’s beautiful,” unwittingly (perhaps) echoing the Platonic tradition’s insistence that truth, goodness, and beauty are just different aspects of the same thing, the stuff of reality that gives structure and meaning to the universe and to our lives.

I don’t know what the modern world’s particular relationship to beauty is (we today find preserved and manicured Medieval towns touchingly beautiful, but their actual inhabitants found them oppressive and nauseous), but I do know that humans need truth, goodness and beauty to flourish. Whether or not it’s the fix to some modern malaise, more beauty would be nice, and we’re not going to get it from some policy agenda or activist shareholders.