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KAI RYSSDAL: The beauty of the Internet is that you can be anybody you want to be. That’s bad in some ways, of course. But in others, it’s good — and funny, too.
For the past year-and-a-half or so, Dan Lyons has decided to be Steve Jobs. Not the real one, of course, but a guy called Fake Steve Jobs on a blog of the same name.
He was unmasked as the author this past summer, wrapping up a mystery that had had the tech world on a whodunnit for 14 months. Now he’s got a book out, as Fake Steve, called Options. Dan, good to have you here.
Dan Lyons: Oh, thanks, nice to be here.
RYSSDAL: The first question that comes to mind is really… Why? I mean, you’ve got a full-time job and a busy life, right?
Lyons: I have 2-year-old twins — yeah, really busy life. Why, I know… OK, basically I’m a print journalist in a 90-year-old print magazine. And I realized a few years ago, “Man, I’ve got to learn about the Internet.” And nobody on the Internet side wants to hire old print guys, at all. So I figured I’d do this on my own. And at the same time I was thinking all these CEOs were doing blogs. The idea was, the premise was, they were all supposed to be honest, and you know, transparent. But they weren’t — they were all just complete spin and hoo-hah. So then I thought, “Wouldn’t it cool if a CEO really did do a blog, but went off the rails and people couldn’t stop him.” And when the Wall Street Journal wrote something bad about him, he could say bad stuff back about them, and say — well, I don’t want to use a bad word — they’re “difficult.”
RYSSDAL: Did you try out a couple of different persona? I mean, did you go through Jeff Immelt at GE — nah, that didn’t work… Bill Gates? Yeah, no that didn’t work… And finally, “boom” — the lights come on and it’s Steve Jobs?
Lyons: It did — you know, I had a few different candidates… You know, Sergei Brin and Google? But there’s not a lot there. And Chris Anderson at Wired, I tried him, the long tail guy, but like, nah… And then some day I though, “Ah, Jobs…”
RYSSDAL: Well, he’s so perfect for parody, right? Because he’s got almost a uniform he wears at the MacWorld conferences, he’s so removed from ability to get in touch with him somehow. I mean, he just lends himself to being taken apart in a kind of a visceral way.
Lyons: I started reading more about him — he’s super-controlled, really uptight and controlling. But you know that behind the scenes, there’s a lot boiling up in there. And because he leaves that empty, because he leaves that vacuum, you can fill it fictionally — you can fill it and you can make it ring true.
RYSSDAL: Do me a favor and — I’ve actually got the book here, it’s designed not unlike an iPod, it’s a great package and all that. Now I want you to just read a little bit here that I’ve sort of outlined here.
Lyons: [Reading] I’m famous for being a genius and for running the coolest consumer electronics company in the world, which I totally started in my garage by myself. Or actually, with this other guy, but he’s out of the picture now, so who cares? I’m famous because the devices I create are works of art, machines so elegantly crafted and industrially designed that they belong in a museum. My iMac computers and iLife software restore a sense of child-like wonder to people’s lives and bestow upon their owners a sense that they are more intelligent and even, well, better than other people. I also invented the friggin’ iPod — have you heard of it?
RYSSDAL: We wouldn’t be having this conversation without the iPod, right?
Lyons: Exactly — and Apple wouldn’t have a bigger market cap than IBM today without the iPod.
RYSSDAL: And so, for all of his foibles, the guy’s done some amazing things…
Lyons: Oh, yeah — I mean, he’s a genius. That’s the other thing, I’m a huge fan of his. I got to tell people, I wouldn’t want to work for him, wouldn’t want to live next door to him, or be in his family. But I’m so glad he’s in the world. He’s a genius. I think really, at heart, all he wants to do is work — even as an Apple user, I’m like, “Leave me alone, let me keep making these products.”
RYSSDAL: Fundamentally, then, he’s just a geek. He’s just a Silicon Valley geek.
Lyons: Absolutely — only a cool geek.
RYSSDAL: Oh, of course. The coolest.
Lyons: The coolest of all the geeks. He’s one of the only ones who manages to both be a geek, and cool.
RYSSDAL: The book is called Options. It’s a parody by Fake Steve Jobs, who by day, or by night, take your pick — when do you write, day or night?
Lyons: The Fake Steve thing? A little of both, sort of all day long… You have to keep it churning all day.
RYSSDAL: Dan Lyons works at Forbes, he’s a senior editor there. Dan, thanks a lot for coming in.
Lyons: Oh, thank you for having me.