Nothing to See Here
Little imperfections give us a clearer view of reality
Wouldn’t you love to have a job working on a luxury spaceship – especially if it didn’t require leaving your own backyard?
More than likely, that’s what Steve Jobs had in mind when he set in motion the construction of Apple Park. The futuristic corporate campus has boldly pushed the boundaries of engineering and architectural perfection beyond where any man has gone before.
In fact, maybe it pushed them just a little too far.
In order to create a seamless space conducive to optimum efficiency, engineers incorporated 3000 sheets of curved glass – the largest measuring 47 by 10.5 feet and produced to the highest quality specifications in history. However, the clarity of the glass panels and the flawlessness of their placement have resulted in an unintended and embarrassing consequence:
Employees keep walking into them.
As yet, no serious injuries have been reported. But signs of tension are evident, most notably in the form of Post-it notes stuck up by employees to help them avoid smacking into the glass walls. Managers have responded by scrambling to take the notes down as quickly as they go up. Apparently, aesthetics take priority over concern for human dignity.
THROUGH A GLASS, TOO CLEARLY
Known for his obsessive attention to detail, the late great CEO demanded a level of perfectionism far beyond accepted standards of construction. According to a Reuters report early last year, Mr. Jobs insisted on details that would be both virtually and literally unnoticeable. This drove designers and supervisors to the edge of madness while setting the project years behind schedule.
The money quote came from a construction manager who remarked, “The things you can’t see, they all mattered to Apple.” Ironically, the underlying logic of the design was to make it easier for employees to move about while keeping full attention on their phones and tablets. Of course, seeing the glass walls well-enough to avoid crashing into them should have figured into the calculations.
Perhaps it’s time for Apple engineers to come to terms with the reality that pedestrians really do have to pay attention to where they’re going – even in a $5 billion high-tech ultra-modern complex. But maybe the takeaway has less to do with ergonomics and architectural innovation and more to do with the ill-conceived pursuit of perfection.
IS THE GLASS FULL OR EMPTY?
Human beings have an instinctive desire to solve problems. Darkness, inertia, distance, gravity, disability – we have overcome so many of these and other obstacles in our determination to master the world we live in. We have pushed back the night, brought water to the desert, fed starving masses, cured disease, and broken free from the limits of our own planet. We have created machines that are more powerful, more swift, and more nimble than our physical bodies and minds. It’s only natural that we are driven to constantly improve on what we’ve done by doing it even better.
But it is the worst kind of hubris to believe that we can achieve perfection in anything. There will always be limits to what human beings can accomplish. And that’s a good thing.
What would happen to our humanity if we actually created a perfect world? Most likely, we would swiftly sink into purposeless complacency, as H. G. Wells envisioned the sheep-like Eloi in his dystopian classic The Time Machine. It is the imperfect nature of the world that forces us to strive to achieve, just as it is the imperfections in our own nature that summon us to transform ourselves into better spouses, parents, children, friends, neighbors, and citizens.
King Solomon declares, Pride goes before destruction, and arrogance before the fall.
No doubt Solomon never imagined that people of creative genius would be so self-absorbed that they would be walking into walls. But when it comes to the proclivity of human beings toward the absurd, there truly are no limits.
It’s worth remembering that the purpose of a window is to allow us to see beyond the limits of our own space, not to eliminate the boundaries that define our existence. Paradoxically, it is the humility that comes from acknowledging our own limitations that makes it possible for us to accomplish almost anything at all.
Published in Jewish World Review
Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images