The Real, and fake, Steve Jobs

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My $249 Things Have Officially Gotten Out of Hand Detector from Brookstone started blinking in overdrive one day. Sure enough, moments later the phone rang and I found myself being interrogated by the Wall Street Journal about whether or not I was blogging under the nom de plume Fake Steve Jobs.

As many of you know by now, a Forbes magazine editor named Daniel Lyons started a blog last year titled The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs. It’s a fine blog with a huge readership that includes both Bona Fide Steve Jobs and Perhaps-Not-Interesting-Enough-to-Bother-Parodying Bill Gates.

But before Lyons was revealed as the Fake Steve, many people guessed that I was the author of that blog. I was questioned by the Journal, Forbes, BusinessWeek, Wired, and every other tech news site you could name. I finally had to publish a column on, revealing the awful truth: I’m not Fake Steve.

Fake versus bona fide

I’m surprised the mystery lasted as long as it did, and I’m doubly surprised that anybody actually cared to dig up Fake Steve’s true identity. The fun of that blog wasn’t in the guessing game: it was in celebrating the cultural phenomenon of Bona Fide Steve Jobs as a cartoon character. Because the BFSJ who’s emerged in the popular consciousness has about as much intersection with the real, private one as the cartoon version of Optimus Prime has with one of the actual Transformers.

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. I’m saying that, just like Fake Steve, Bona Fide Steve carefully protects his true identity from public scrutiny. And any attempt to understand “the real Steve” will inevitably go down in abject failure.

And honestly, the nineties were chockablock with tech CEOs who desperately wanted interviewers to know about their kickboxing practice, their collection of vintage toasters, or the fact that they hadn’t worn anything orange since they were 11 years old. And for good reason. They were so open about their personal lives because they desperately did not want interviewers to ask itchy questions like “ Why exactly is the time right for an online store that sells only trampolines?”

No, if Bona Fide Steve has any talking to do, he does it in his capacity as the head of his companies. What I want as a journalist and consumer is an iPhone, not a press release about his plans to cross the Atlantic on an inflatable yak.

And yet folks aren’t quite satisfied with Bona Fide Steve’s “My personal life is nobody’s business” attitude. In fact, the nerd community had created several different Fake Steve Jobses before anybody thought to start up a blog:

Edison Steve is the engineer of untrammeled brilliance who toils in his lonely basement lab day and night before emerging, triumphant and disheveled, with an iPod Exo prototype he conceived and made himself—including the chips, which he made by painstakingly fusing thousands of grains of sand together using his heat vision.

Dalai Steve would, like the Coca-Cola Company, like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. Except that 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.

Emperor Palpatine Steve makes passionate public speeches about maintaining a benevolent and steady hand on the great ship of industry and leading the Republic to a new Enlightened Age. But as he’s saying all of that, he’s trying to decide whether the two Jedi chained up in the Imperial barge have merited the lightning-bolts-from-the-hands treatment, or if he should just eject them into space before making the jump to light speed.

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

I’m Sure If He and I Ever Met We’d Become Like TOTAL Best Friends Because Oh My God We’re So Alike Steve thinks that cool tech is awesome, and was excited to be one of the first people to ride a Segway, and is hugely into U2 and animation, and …

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

[ Andy Ihnatko is the technology columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and the author of the forthcoming Mac OS X Leopard Book (Wiley). ]

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