I want to elaborate some on a point I made to introduce my editorial: that there is no general cultural awareness, in intellectual circles or in the media, of the incredible technological advancement going on. I’m thinking specifically of the computer industry.
Because of my day job, I follow technology news pretty closely, but I’m going to do this even after I quit in a few months. Scitech news is an ocean of concrete instances of intelligence applied to the problem of survival, i.e. productiveness.
In general the computer industry attracts the best minds, and there are good reasons for this. It is a field that is wide open, with very little regulation (with certain significant exceptions). The territory is challenging and uncharted. It is a field with enormous potential to enhance our lives. The possibilities for how to store, deal with, and organize information of all kinds are exactly the kinds of problems that smart people love: they are highly abstract and demand creative, previously unheard of solutions.
Occasionally an analogy is made between the tech industry and the wild west. I think this is totally appropriate. There is a contiuous explosion of technological innovation that shows no signs of abating. If you wonder about the productivity of our culture, about where the excitement and innovation is, about the problems being solved by the best mind’s in the world, and about where the rationality in our culture is being directed–find a good scitech news source (or just use the Google News scitech aggregator).
The more reflective techies even offer very intelligent, general practical and intellectual advice, and even good cultural analysis of the significance of their field. Apropos of productiveness and purpose, check out Paul Graham on What You’ll Wish You’d Known in high school. It’s a very smart and enjoyable speech.
But despite it’s (significant) virtues, it highlights the need for deeper intellectual, i.e. philosophical, ideas. There are confusions about discipline and anxiety, very mixed advice on self-motivation, and only approximate indications as to what counts as purposeful and why.
The kind of analysis and advice Graham offers is badly needed. But the nature of work and how to pursue a career is the purvue of the humanities. Metaphysical and ethical questions bear upon what one should do with one’s life and how one should go about it, questions that require professional specialization, scrutiny, development, and integration. And as Graham realizes, this is completely absent from today’s university departments.
As Ayn Rand noted in numerous places, the humanities are the real uncharted frontier.