Thoughts for a holiday weekend
When I see the commercial below, which has been running in frequent rotation for a while now, it makes me think: Apple really knows its customers.
At a basic level, the commercial speaks directly to those of us who came of age with the original Apple computers in the 80's. We're older now, but we still want to think we're cool. And, we all remember the movie Dead Poets Society. People younger than us that actually are cool can still experience the great soliloquy that Robin Williams gave, while highlighting all the cool things an iPad can do that they love. Apple and their ad agency really are pretty brilliant. I have my beefs from time to time, but you can't deny their overall level of excellence.
But going a little deeper, the ad says something much more important. That is, new technologies are great only when they amplifies our essential humanity. If a device helps us live a better, more fully human life, than it's a success. If it's tech just for the sake of tech, then that doesn't serve humans well at all. As a designer of consumer products, Apple has always been highly focused on the human side of interaction as much as the microprocessor side. It's that quality in fact that drives a lot of tech geeks crazy.
I think about this sort of thing when examining new ideas or techniques for cities. Each week, someone has the latest gizmo or theory that they want to promote. I write about a lot of them here. But what's always foremost in my mind are the simple qualities; the squishy human side of things. Cities aren't collections of numbers. They're places for people, and for people to be human. We create streets and parks and buildings so we have places to live, love, laugh, cry and explore. The best cities engage our senses, and our sense of wonder. Ray Bradbury said it very well in the book Yestermorrow: Obvious Answers to Impossible Futures:
“In Paris, with miserable weather, in thousands of outdoor drinking and eating places, the generations gather to talk and stare… which is what life is all about. Gathering and staring is one of the great pastimes in the countries of the world.
The best cities, and the ones we flock to, are just that: places to stare, enjoy life slowly and have a little romance. If they fail on these counts, ultimately people will abandon them, no matter how trendy they might be in any given year. To badly paraphrase the fictional John Keating: Parking, roads, zoning, bikes, cars, trains, these are necessary tools for life; but beauty, romance, love, happiness these are what we stay alive for. How are you making space for them in your city? What will your verse be?
We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?