What's wrong with the Steve Jobs 'reality distortion' lie

By Jonny Evans

One thing bothers me within so much of the recent coverage of the loss of Apple's [AAPL] Steve Jobs: the frequent allusion to his so-called "reality distortion field". What is this myth that's being propagated as a reality concerning a man who it would be far more appropriate to say had a "reality creation field", or at least a "reality disruption field".

[ABOVE: Only recently hitting the 'Net, AzR's tribute to Jobs uses only Mac sounds and Jobs' famed Stanford address.]

Reality disruption

I'm thinking about this report today: "Nothing Is Up With Eric Schmidt's "Revisionist History" of His Relationship With Steve Jobs", a spirited defense of Schmidt, in which the writer manages to spin the reality distortion line one more time.

(The reality is that if I'd been let down at a boardroom level by someone like Schmidt I'm sure I'd have found it a bit harder trusting the one who'd let me down in future. Though it could be argued that's why I'm not in a boardroom.)

The author even admits "reality distortion" is a legend, but then continues to deliver his allegation of this as a fact. Sure, Jobs could sell, sure, Jobs could talk the talk, but the legend was absolutely nothing to do with his talents as a marketing man. It pertained to his talent to lead, convince and to inspire. These are different things, it is inappropriate to fail to disambiguate the two.

An inconvenient truth

I have a problem with the whole term, really. I understand it was the brainchild of Bud Tribble. It was used in reference to Jobs' influence on engineers working on the PC industry-defining Mac project.

That's the project in which Jobs told the Mac team, "Let's make a dent in the universe. We'll make it so important that it will make a dent in the universe."

The project Commodore boss Jack Tramiel, sniped against when he said, "Very nice, Steve. I guess you'll sell it in boutiques." Where is Commodore now? Where is the GUI? How is Apple retail doing, come to that?

So how was leading and motivating a team which helped define the paradigm of desktop computing a reality distortion? How was it distortion to develop into the mass market those Xerox Alto-inspired ideas of mouse and keyboard and display-based computing? How was it distortion to develop the GUI notions Microsoft would later use in Windows?

Where's the distortion? All I see is leadership and change.

When is leadership distortion?

Andy Hertzfeld said this legendary ability reflected Jobs' ability to convince himself and others to "believe almost anything". But that's leadership, isn't it? NeXT, iPod, iPhone, iPad, AirPort, iMovie, iCal, WebObjects, Apple retail, the list is lengthy.

Did Jobs use reality distortion to convince the iMac team to dump the floppy drive? Was that reality distortion, or just a good decision? Reality reflection, if you will?

On the brief occasion I was lucky enough to meet Jobs, I wasn't left with any sense of reality distortion. I felt in the presence of a person of highly-evolved perception. He was also charming and polite, not at all like the legends claim.

The term 'reality distortion' is widely used by Apple competitors.


Because they want Apple to be stuck back in 1995, when Apple's foes lived happy in candyland. When Apple was stagnant, and they could only see a future of commodity computing in which they enjoyed their license to print money.

Like every vested interest, these people fought tooth and nail to prevent Apple regaining any form of ascendancy. They failed of course, Apple -- under Steve Jobs -- succeeded, and now it is Apple's foes, and not Apple, who are engaged in reality distortion.

Love what you do

They are pretending they are still relevant in the post-PC era Apple's lost co-founder managed to define -- even though he was also fighting the cancer which eventually claimed him.

That's not reality distortion. That's reality creation. And it's time we dumped the old legend and accept that Jobs' so-called distorted reality is the one we are in, and that the old guard are deluded to think it is anything else.

California Governor Jerry Brown has declared tomorrow, October 16, to be "Steve Jobs Day".

Apple is also preparing an invite-only event at Stanford University and an all-hands Apple staffers remembrance next week.

It seems appropriate to me that the myth of the reality distortion field be also laid to rest, in order that we can remember Steve Jobs the man for what he was, without the distortion field some hope to shroud his memory in.

Am I the only one who feels like this? I'm interested in what you think.

If you have messages, leave them here, or send them to Apple at rememberingsteve@apple.com

What are your thoughts? Speak up, I'm interested.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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