A Brief History of Reality Distortion Fields, Starring Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is the first non-science fiction character to possess a reality distortion field (RDF). Apple's MacWorld 2008 conference kicks off tomorrow with a keynote from Jobs, which leaves gadget lovers and iPod fiends white-knuckled on Tuesday morning as news of the next "insanely great" thing trickles out of Moscone Center in San Francisco. Why does this speech cause such furor (and fury) every year? RDF, of course. We've got the scoop on how Jobs came to posses the RDF, and we've got four other famous RDFs from science fiction for you to contemplate as you await the mind-control ray that will emanate from MacWorld tomorrow.


A Brief History of the Reality Distortion Field

  • Steve Jobs and his Reality Distortion Field: Apparently the Star Trekly-esque named Bud Tribble was working on a software project for Apple in 1981, and thought he had been given an unrealistic ten-month schedule from inception to ship date. When asked why he didn't just ask Steve to change it, he reportedly said "Well, it's Steve. Steve insists that we're shipping in early 1982, and won't accept answers to the contrary. The best way to describe the situation is a term from Star Trek. Steve has a reality distortion field." Although it turns out no one could find a connection between that term and Star Trek, and thus a legend was born.
  • The Scramble Suits from A Scanner Darkly: In Phillip K. Dick's novel about drug addiction and the paranoid world on both sides of that issue, government narcotics agents wear "scramble suits" that change every aspect of the reader, shifting at a moment's notice so that people looking at someone wearing one will never be able to tell what they look like. In the novel they shift extremely quickly, but they slowed it down in the movie to show how they work. They alter your voice as well, making you the most visible invisible man/woman around: they scramble reality for everyone except you.
  • The Matrix in The Matrix: Nothing distorts reality more than entire system of machines set up to grow you from a fetus, nurture you, and feed your brain signals that tell it you're growing up normal inside a world that doesn't exist. As Morpheus says, "It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth." Sounds pretty distorty to us, although if they decided to make us some sort of science fiction superstar inside this simulation, we probably wouldn't mind. Then you'd all be invited to the rad parties we'd throw.
  • The Holodeck in Star Trek: Seriously, we could never understand why people just didn't stay on the holodeck 24/7. Sure, it's technically "not real," but it does everything you'd want a real world to do. You've got an entire library of billions and billions of option of things to simulate, plus you can even disable the security protocols making it possible to actually die while you pretend you're inside Alice in Wonderland. It's like a portable Matrix To Go (tm), so how did they ever manage to get any work done with one of these things around?
  • The world of They Live: You can blame our current obsession with this film on the fact that it's been showing up on cable a lot lately, but there's something about this Roddy Piper/John Carpenter film that makes it hard to hate. In their world, an alien signal is being beamed out that makes humans as complacent as cattle, and stops them from seeing the aliens as they actually are. Thankfully, Roddy gets some magic glasses that help him kick ass and thwart the fugly aliens. Although in retrospect, they just wanted to make him rich. Was that so bad?

We're waiting for the consumer version of the RDF - we need it for when we're trying to get someone to divulge secrets about new movies, or trying to convince them to design two useless screws into a laptop. We'll add it to the list of science fiction devices we want, right next to a time-travel belt, a brain-computer interface for the iPhone, and x-ray spex.

Image above from the Joy of Tech website. Full version can be seen here.


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