I’m finally getting around to reading the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs. I’m fascinated by the discussion of how Jobs developed what became known as the Reality Distortion Field. Apparently Jobs had a lifelong battle with reality and won.
One way to look at Jobs’ life is that he was a liar and a con man with a gift for design. According to Isaacson’s reporting, Jobs had no love for truth. Jobs learned how to lie, cajole, manipulate, and charm until people believed whatever he wanted them to believe. By all accounts, Jobs’ mixture of cruel and unsavory skills caused people to produce seemingly impossible results.
That’s one way to interpret events. But it’s not the only interpretation. According to Isaacson’s book, Jobs spent years trying to understand the nature of reality before he started bending it. Jobs dropped a lot of acid, travelled to India, followed gurus, became a fruitarian, meditated, and studied religion. He was clearly looking for something. What if he found it?
Jobs’ spiritual journey probably led him to believe reality is subjective – more like a complicated set of ideas than a huge clump of matter. I’ve never tried acid, but from what I hear, it changes your view of reality forever. Before you take acid, a rock is just a rock. After acid, a rock is sometimes a rock, and other times it’s just one possibility. When you consider all of Jobs’ spiritual experiences, it’s fair to assume he had an open mind about the nature of reality.
For context, keep in mind that physicists also have some whacky ideas about the nature of reality. Some scientists believe we are experiencing just one of many universes. Others question the nature of time. Einstein showed us that reality is different for observers traveling at different speeds. And in the quantum world, reality is smeared across probabilities.
Maybe it’s simplistic to say Jobs was a liar and a con man. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say he found the user interface for reality, and lying is simply one of the levers. We know Jobs spent years trying to find the keys to reality’s engine. Maybe he found them.
The biggest head-scratcher about Jobs’ career is how many times he transformed entire industries: computers, phones, music, animation, and more. And each success happened with a different mix of Apple employees. Do you believe all of that success was luck, or perhaps luck plus extraordinary business skill? Or is it possible something else was happening?
I don’t believe in magic. But I can’t rule out the possibility that reality has a user interface. Perhaps the Reality Distortion Field was exactly what it looked like.