The Carlyle Group's David Rubenstein may be one of the country's top tech investors, but this week, he voiced an uncommon opinion: the arts are just as important to life as technology.
Today’s world is focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, so the arts and humanities are difficult to stand behind, particularly in an academic setting.
As the jokes goes: "How do you get an art major off of your doorstep?"
"You pay for the pizza."
But there is more to life than just technology, said David Rubenstein, co-founder and CEO of The Carlyle Group, and it's important to enjoy areas beyond technology whether you are a student or not.
That was his message as he spoke at the Northern Virginia Technology Council’s Annual TechCelebration event on Monday. He received the group's Pinnacle Award for his contributions to the tech community.
“First, all of you have done a spectacular job making Northern Virginia one of the technology centers for the United States,” he said. “I give you a lot of credit for doing that, but I’d like you to think about this: technology isn’t everything.”
Rubenstein stressed that technologists should also think about other things, like history and literature, that make life worth living.
“Why are you all building technology companies? Because you want to make peoples’ lives better, all of us want to make lives better, but when you make your lives better, what is it that you really want to do? I think you want to do more than just go and build more technology companies,” Rubenstein said.
“What you should want to do is appreciate the other things in life that make life so wonderful: literature, plays, art, other kinds of things that use maybe a different part of the brain,” he added.
Rubenstein was clear that technology has improved the quality of life. “My point is not that technology isn’t wonderful,” he said, noting that technology has increased our life expectancy and brought us things like computers, telephones, and air conditioning, “but you should appreciate the other wonderful things in life as well.”
Rubenstein brought to mind other famous scientists and technologists from the past, including the founding fathers. “They did all of these wonderful things, they created our country, they fought a revolution, they created the constitution, yet they didn’t have all of these great technology devices. You can have a great life without all these technology devices.”
He left the audience with the hope that they will follow the lead of the founding fathers as well as other scientists and technologists and realize that the arts and humanities can help stimulate your brain and turn you into an even better, more rounded scientist or technologist.
Rubenstein’s second point was akin to his first—parents should not pressure their children to be STEM majors. Usually, Rubenstein added, this happens because parents want their kids to be successful after school ends, and being a STEM major may help them land their first job.
“What you want to learn in college is how to think, how to reason, how to enjoy life. The rest of your life, you’ll have all the pressure to do other things, so I think it’s important that we not pressure our children just to major in STEM,” he said.
STEM is a great field, and many parents’ children will no doubt want to pursue a degree in a STEM-related field, Rubenstein said, but they should also learn other things for the sake of improving their understanding of life.
“Many of the great people who built companies in technology did not have technology majors, and many of the people who are running many of the largest technology companies right now are not, by background, engineers,” he said.
His final point was about philanthropy. "You are not in the 1 percent. You are in the 1/10th of the 1/10th of the 1 percent," he said.
“We’ve all gotten here by hard work and a lot of sweat and labor, but now that we’ve gotten here, we should recognize that life isn’t only about making money, it isn’t only about being the richest person in the cemetery,” Rubenstein said. “It’s about giving back and leaving humanity in a better place than when we inherited it.”
Rubenstein suggested the audience make “giving back” a fabric of their lives.
“Don’t do what I did,” Rubenstein said, admitting that he waited until the latter third of his life before he began to give back. “Do it younger,” he said.
“I think you will enjoy life a lot more if you try to give back to the country and to the community that made it possible for you to have this success.”
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