Farewell, Fake Steve Jobs
From one pseudonymous business columnist to another: You'll be missed.
The virtual space lost an important voice this month, a shooting star that lit the digital firmament for a short time and then, as these things will, passed away, leaving the world a darker, sadder place. I am speaking, of course, of Fake Steve Jobs. He shall be missed. And not inauthentically, either.
This loss hits me perhaps more acutely than it does some others. You see I, too, am a fake person. I've been one for several decades now. And I know that his demise is a harbinger of my eventual fate as well. In the end, faux personae are even more fragile than real ones. It's tough enough being a genuine person, if there is such a thing. But sustaining a fake persona in concert with one's genuine existence is almost impossible over time. Either the bogus personality rises up and suffuses your own, transforming in that process from the ersatz to the actual—or the forces of reality rise up, bite, and drag you down.
In the end, it wasn't the Borg who got him, or the Beastmaster, or Faceberg or Goatberg or even Monkey Boy. No, Fake Steve was killed by a reporter from the New York Times, who outed his real identity about a year ago. It took that long for Fake Steve to expire. Some poisons are slower acting than others. The moment his true name and background emerged, however, the die was cast, the entrails were thrown, the frost was on the pumpkin. Pseudonyms are like Boo Radley. Living in the dark, peeping out at the world from behind louvered shutters … they can live. Hauled into the light of day and made to stand on the porch for all to see, they end up looking like a very young Robert Duvall when he still had a little bit of hair left. And then they die.
Fake dudes swing loose. They use naughty language they couldn't if they were writing for Forbes or Fortune or Time magazine. They insult people without fear or favor. Real people sometimes find themselves looking at guys they called Squirrel Boy in that morning's blog at a cocktail party or something. They can get punched in the nose, or bothered by nasty, jealous bloggers eager to shoot down anything more fake than they are. Suddenly, the poor fake individual is accountable for his words in a way the lord never intended. That's why it's a drag being a real person, and why real people are often more boring than fake ones.
After you're busted, you can still be fake, of course. But you can never be quite as fake as you were when you were 100 percent fake. And that takes some of the fun out of it. Before you know it, that little pain in your side takes over your whole body and you take to your bed, never to rise again. You surrender to the inevitable drag that reality imposes on anything that is essentially imaginary.
It happened to me, back in 1996. Some moron hack bloviating boulevardier editor doofus was having a drink with a humorless droid from that very same party-pooping organization that killed Fake Steve, and happened to mention my very well-kept secret identity. An article ensued, which attempted to inflict a mortal wound on my fake person. I survived, possibly because my fake personality has more friends than my real one. But I've never been able to be purely fake again.
That was a decade ago, and I'm still dragging my fake carcass around. History does note many cases of similarly terminal diagnoses who defy the odds. But it gets harder and harder, I will tell you that. And the fact that Fake Steve couldn't do it anymore sends a little frisson up my spine.
As it should yours, my friends. Each of us, to be successful in this business world, must create a fake person better suited than we are to master whichever particular universe we are destined to inhabit. An attack on another person's very public fakeness is an attack on us all. Today it's Fake Steve, yanked into the public square and left to expire of exposure. Tomorrow it could be me or you.
After all is said and done, we are left with some great memories of our friend Fake Steve and a determination not to let his passing go unmourned and unrevenged. There but for the grace of god goes you or I, you know.
Stanley Bing is a columnist for Fortune magazine and the best-selling author of the new book, Executricks, or How To Retire While You're Still Working. In his nonvirtual life, he is a senior executive for a corporate behemoth whose identity (along with his own at this point) is one of the worst-kept secrets in business.
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