Evidence that Steve Jobs was aware of his reality distortion field

Adrian Hanft
3 min readNov 12, 2016

There’s a nasty criticism about Steve Jobs that uses an argument about a reality distortion field. It goes something like this…

“Steve Jobs was a ruthless leader who manipulated and abused his employees. His expectations were impossibly high, but because his personality was so strong and abrasive, his workers found ways to do the impossible rather than be abused by their leader. His reality distortion field made him impossible to refuse, and he often fooled people into building things that they knew couldn’t be built.”

The reality distortion field theory is also used to explain Apple’s amazing success and their eccentric fans. Many of Apple’s critics truly believe that Apple fans are lemmings, brainwashed by marketing and superficial beauty. They believe that Apple seduces their customers by reality distortion, by inventing lies that fool people into overpaying for products that they argue have inferior specs.

I thought that the reality distortion field theory was just an invention that Apple haters invented in hindsight. I didn’t realize that it was a part of Steve Jobs vision from the beginning.

Then I re-watched a video from 1986 that documents Steve Jobs and his NeXT team on a company retreat. The video is worth watching in its entirety, but I want to call your attention to the 9:50 mark where Joanna Hoffman says,

“I don’t care what you say, reality distortion is reality distortion and it has its motivational value and that’s fine. And I think it has a very important value. However, when it comes to that date affecting the design of the product, that’s when we get into a rut. Because if we are unrealistic about this date…”

Here is evidence that in 1986, more than a decade before Steve would return to Apple, he and his team were debating openly about how to distort reality.

Is this proof of the Apple haters’ reality distortion field theory? Is it evidence that from the beginning Steve Jobs set…

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Adrian Hanft

Author of User Zero: Inside the Tool that is Reshaping Dystopia