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The vintage allure of Fake Steve Jobs

Forget trying to figure out who he is. The important thing is that he's anonymous in a time when none of us thought you could be anonymous anymore.

The photo of the real Steve Jobs preferred by the fake Steve Jobs
Fake Steve Jobs

Like many of you, I have my own theory as to Fake Steve Jobs' real-life identity. But I'm not going to discuss it here. At this point, bloggers' rabid attempts to lay bare the face behind the anonymous writer have grown a bit tiresome, and for all we know, The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs will turn out to be a corporate travail staffed by a team of six writers nabbed from The Office. But that's not to say that Fake Steve isn't newsworthy. The blog, I'm willing to argue, has more to say about the state of the media today than a thousand "purple cows," noisy disruptors, viral-buzz ecosystems, and whatever other business clichés you'd like me to throw in your face.

More than a few people would agree that the blogger behind Fake Steve, underneath his exaggerated Jobsian obnoxiousness, ranks right up there with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as one of the most spot-on social critics we have. But because nobody knows who he is, he can get away with more: Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman is a " sociopathic nouveau riche lady-killer," Gawker Media founder Nick Denton is almost never mentioned without the epithet "macrocephalic," and his Valleywag successor Owen Thomas is constantly referred to as "Mr. Bigglesworth." Former vice president and current global warming figurehead Al Gore is depicted as emotionally fragile and tormented by marriage problems that lead him to frequently call up the faux Jobs and ask for a couch to crash on (which tends to infuriate Mrs. Jobs). Rockers turned social crusaders Bono and The Edge, according to Fake Steve, are prone to bar fights. ("Bono says it's an Irish thing," the satirist asserts flippantly.)

Yeah, he's funny. But take away the push-button publishing, the RSS feeds, and the post tagging, and look at the bigger picture: Fake Steve, as a concept, is downright old-school. Think about it. In a culture captivated--obsessed, even--by the antics of high society, an anonymous satirist starts publishing over-the-top missives purporting to be from an insider in that privileged niche. In the process, the faux-mogul skewers political elites, entertainers, business titans, and ordinary people in a way that's at once outlandish and provocative, hilarious and appalling. It reeks of Swift or Dickens or Twain (although a friend of mine who's better-schooled in 19th-century literature informed me that the most apt comparison is likely Edgar Allan Poe). Were it the 19th century, or heck, the 1990s, the satirist's medium of choice likely would've been a serial or set of letters in a major news outlet.

But in 2007, we have the Google-owned Blogger platform, and instead of Twain's The Gilded Age lampooning the glitterati, we have The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs. (New technology, it should be said, does make it much easier for Fake Steve to churn out a whole lot more content than any 19th-century satirist with access to a printing press ever could.)

What the Fake Steve Jobs phenomenon has to say about our culture is that perhaps "new media" isn't as new as we'd like to think it is. Whether you like it or not, there are holes in the "always-on" nature of the social Web, the "snack culture" of short blog entries and camera phone video clips that have made dozens of doomsday prophets hail the impending death of anything longer than three minutes or 500 words (um, hello, just how long was that Harry Potter book that sold eight million copies a few days ago?), and the geeky power trips that come from being able to dig up Perez Hilton-worthy levels of dirt through Google searches. And in those gaps, delightfully vintage media like Fake Steve Jobs are able to pop up.

In our world, the as-yet-unmasked Fake Steve Jobs is a shady anachronism in a world where we're supposed to be able to find all the answers at broadband speed. Were I better with analogies, I'd come up with a clever way to draw parallels to, you know, Galapagos tortoises or coelacanths or those sharks that haven't evolved in six million years. The idea of an almost completely anonymous social critic--I'm saying "almost" because I'm not unconvinced that a small cadre of new-media elites knows the identity of the writer or writers behind Fake Steve--in a culture where we're supposed to be able to know everything about everybody, is frankly absurd. This is a world of unprecedented interconnectedness, and yet no one can seem to connect the dots when it comes to one of the world's most talked-about bloggers.

Perhaps that's why he's so captivating. And come to think about it, I've sort of started to hope he can keep up the secrecy a while longer. It's more fun this way.