Hippy hippy forward

6 10 2011

Question: How many of the pundits honoring Steve Jobs by praising his 2005 Stanford address, in which he recalls—

So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting. It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it.

—would extend a similar praise to regular ol’ drop-outs, hipsters, hippies, and assorted other losers for simply doing what they love?

There would, of course, be no pundit-love for Jobs had not

much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do.

This is no knock on Jobs; he noted that

you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Dropping out and dropping acid worked for Jobs—good for him.

But all of those pundits who praise his vision, his courage, his fearlessness, what of those who fearlessly follow their visions into failure, mediocrity, or the abyss? What of those who crash on friends’ floors and dumpster dive for furniture and food and take classes just because and who have no impact on anyone beyond those friends?

Jobs was an eccentric obsessive who parleyed his obsessions into technological and financial success; had there been no success, there would be no praise for his unconventionality.

He ended the speech by citing the final issue of the Whole Earth Catalog:

On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Marvelous advice, but recognize that without success you will simply be thought a hungry fool.


h/t to Andrew Sullivan, for his round-up of reactions, with Robin Hanson one of the skeptics




3 responses

6 10 2011

Ahhhh…and there is the reason I read these posts. The hungry fool; wisdom indeed. Success is judged by oneself. A hungry fool, perhaps. But successful in ones own mind…a grand goal.

7 10 2011

been hungry, been a fool, been a hungry fool, no glory there without genius and or luck and i have neither, just hard work, no glory there either and not even much peace, no escaping gravity…

7 10 2011

@BJ: Yeah, it’s important to make sense of one’s self—goddess knows I’m trying—but just because one is clear with oneself doesn’t mean others will see you the same way. Still, not necessarily a reason not to go your own way.

@dmf: Oh, I’m with you there. Sometimes floating away and other times weighed down; where is that balance?

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