"Reality Distortion Field"

by Miguel de Icaza

"Reality Distortion Field" is a modern day cop out. A tool used by men that lack the intellectual curiosity to explain the world, and can deploy at will to explain excitement or success in the market place. Invoking this magical super power saves the writer from doing actual work and research. It is a con perpetuated against the readers.

The expression originated as an observation made by those that worked with Steve to describe his convincing passion. It was insider joke/expression which has now been hijacked by sloppy journalists when any subject is over their head.

The official Steve Jobs biography left much to be desired. Here a journalist was given unprecedented access to Steve Jobs and get answers to thousands of questions that we have to this day. How did he approach problems? Did he have a method? How did he really work with his team? How did he turn his passion for design into products? How did he make strategic decisions about the future of Apple? How did the man balance engineering and marketing problems?

The biography has some interesting anecdotes, but fails to answer any of these questions. The biographer was not really interested in understanding or explaining Steve Jobs. He collected a bunch of anecdotes, stringed them together in chronological order, had the text edited and cashed out.

Whenever the story gets close to an interesting historical event, or starts exploring a big unknown of Steve's work, we are condescendingly told that "Steve Activated the Reality Distortion Field".

Every. Single. Time.

Not once did the biographer try to uncover what made people listen to Steve. Not once did he try to understand the world in which Steve operated. The breakthroughs of his work are described with the same passion as a Reuters news feed: an enumeration of his achievements glued with anecdotes to glue the thing together.

Consider the iPhone: I would have loved to know how the iPhone project was conceived. What internal process took place that allowed Apple to gain the confidence to become a phone manufacturer. There is a fascinating story of the people that made this happen, millions of details of how this project was evaluated and what the vision for the project was down to every small detail that Steve cared about.

Instead of learning about the amazing hardware and software engineering challenges that Steve faced, we are told over and over that all Steve had to do was activate his special super power.

The biography in short, is a huge missed opportunity. Unprecedented access to a man that reshaped entire industries and all we got was some gossip.

The "Reality Distortion Field" is not really a Steve Jobs super-power, it is a special super power that the technical press uses every time they are too lazy to do research.

Why do expensive and slow user surveys, or purchase expensive research from analysts to explain why some product is doing well, or why people are buying it when you can just slap a "they activated the Reality Distortion Field and sales went through the roof" statement in your article.

As of today, a Google News search for "Reality Distortion Field Apple" reports 532 results for the last month.

Perhaps this is just how the tech press must operate nowadays. There is just no time to do research as new products are being unveiled around the clock, and you need to deliver opinions and analysis on a daily basis.

But as readers, we deserve better. We should reject these explanations for what they are: a cheap grifter trick.

Posted on 07 Nov 2012