The truth about Fake Steve Jobs

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Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that the CEO of Apple is actually a weedy-looking guy from Manitoba and that the guy we’ve seen in all of the keynotes is just a remarkable animatronic operated internally by five expertly-trained ducks. I’m saying that like FSJ and BFSJ are much alike. They both carefully protect their true identities from public scrutiny, and any attempt to guess at who “the real Steve” is is inevitably going to go down in abject failure. It’s well-known that Steve’s personal life is the third rail of journalism: you touch it and you die. And it wouldn’t be one of those “Tsk-tsk…so tragic, and so young!” ones, either. Digging into that sort of thing is true Darwin Award material, right up there with believing that the sign “HIGH-SPEED TURBINE IMPELLER; KEEP AT LEAST THIRTY FEET AWAY” contains the implied postscript “…UNLESS YOU HAVE A WATERMELON AND AN IDEA FOR AN AWESOME YOUTUBE VIDEO.”

And honestly, I don’t care about BFSJ’s personal life, either. The 1990’s were chockablock with tech CEOs who desperately wanted to explain to interviewers that they’re avid students of the same ancient school of kickboxing practiced by the Turkish secret police; or that they collect vintage toasters; or that they haven’t worn anything orange since they were 11 years old because they’re such wacky New Economy free-spirits. They were so open about their personal lives because they desperately did not want the interviewers to ask itchy questions like “So, explain to me why the time is right for an online store that only sells trampolines.”

If BFSJ has any talking to do, he does it through his functions as the head of his companies. What I want as a journalist and a consumer is an iPhone. I have no use for a press release about a CEO’s plans to become the first man to ascend Everest in a Santa Claus costume.

But folks aren’t quite satisfied with BFSJ’s bizarre “My personal life is nobody’s business” attitude. So the nerd community put at least three or four Fake Steve Jobses into play before anybody thought to trademark the term and start up a blog. There’s:

Edison Steve, a man of untrammeled engineering brilliance who toils in his lonely basement lab night and day before emerging, triumphant and disheveled, with a handbuilt iPod Exo prototype; it is functional and complete, save for a paddleboat-shaped case to be designed by Jonathan Ive (based on sketches Steve threw together during the drive back to the office);

Lofty Steve, who, like the Coca-Cola Company, would like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. Except his mechanism for compelling the planet to commit to the precepts of compassion and empathy involves the Intel Core Duo processor and the H.264 codec instead of phosphoric acid and caramel coloring;

Palpatine Steve, who makes compelling public speeches about maintaining a benevolent and steady hand on the great ship of industry and leading the Republic to a new Enlightened Age, while all the time he’s trying to decide whether the two Jedi he’s got chained up in the Imperial barge have merited the lightning-bolts-from-the-hands treatment or if he can get away with just ejecting them into space before making the jump to lightspeed;

Howard Hughes Steve, whom you suspect has a few mayonnaise jars full of urine stored discreetly here and there around the Apple campus;

And let’s not overlook the silliest — and possibly the most popular — one:

I’m-Sure-If-I-Ever-Met-Him-We’d-Be-Like- Total -Best-Friends-Because-We’re-So-Alike Steve . The Steve who thinks that cool tech is awesome, and who was excited to be one of the first people to ride a Segway, and who is totally into U2 and cartoons, and…

In this complete vacuum of personal information, with a public so eager to believe that the image that they’ve conjured up is in fact the real thing, it was inevitable that somebody would lay claim to the Fake Steve name as well as the tee-shirt revenue. I’m just a little embarrassed that I didn’t think of it first.

I do insist that there’s really no benefit to squirreling out Fake Steve’s true identity. But sure, part of the fun of the Fake Steve game is indeed the guessing, so I’ll end this piece by suggesting one name as a possible suspect:

Meghan Yan.

I’m not sure that any of you might have heard of her. Actually, I’ve no idea if she’s even a writer. I haven’t seen her in, like, twenty years or something. But back in high school, I asked her out to the Spring Formal and she shot me down so violently and creatively that a fundraising campaign was quickly assembled and a bronze plaque was mounted on the spot where it happened. Every year on the anniversary, a small delegation of local dignitaries lays a wreath.

So Meghan, if you’re reading this: if you’d been just a little bit nicer about it way back then, maybe now you wouldn’t be dodging IMs from Business Week today.

Revenge is a dish best served (et cetera et cetera).

[Andy Ihnatko is a technology columnist and author whose work appears regularly Macworld, MacUser.com, and elsewhere. He is also technology columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.]

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