Reality distortion field

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Reality distortion field (or RDF) is a term first used by Bud Tribble at Apple Computer in 1981, to describe company co-founder Steve Jobs' charisma and its effects on the developers working on the Macintosh project.[1] Tribble said that the term came from Star Trek,[1] where in the episode "The Menagerie", it was used to describe how the aliens created their own new world through mental force.

Steve Jobs[edit]

In Chapter Three of Steve Jobs, biographer Walter Isaacson states that around 1972, while Jobs was attending Reed College, Robert Friedland "taught Steve the reality distortion field." The RDF was said by Andy Hertzfeld to be Steve Jobs' ability to convince himself, and others around him, to believe almost anything with a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement and persistence. It was said to distort his co-workers' sense of proportion and scales of difficulties and to make them believe that whatever impossible task he had at hand was possible. Jobs could also use the reality distortion field to appropriate others' ideas as his own, sometimes proposing an idea back to its originator, only a week after dismissing it.[1]

The term has been used to refer to Jobs' keynote speeches ("Stevenotes") by observers and devoted users of Apple computers and products,[2] and derisively by Apple's competitors in criticisms of Apple. On Research In Motion's official BlackBerry blog, Jim Balsillie introduced a blog post by saying "For those of us who live outside of Apple's distortion field".[3]

Other instances[edit]

The term has been extended, with a mixture of awe and scorn, to other managers and leaders in industry who try to convince their employees to become passionately committed to projects without regard to their overall difficulty or to competitive forces in the market. It is sometimes used with regard to excessively-hyped products that are not necessarily connected with any one person.[4]

  • Bill Clinton's charisma has been called a reality distortion field.[5]
  • The chess champion Bobby Fischer was said to have a "Fischer aura" surrounding him that disoriented Boris Spassky and other opponents.[6]
  • Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes was said to have generated an RDF around her product, the Edison blood analyzer.[7]
  • The term has been also associated with Donald Trump's approach to running his 2016 campaign for United States President and his presidency.[8]
  • Financial Times used the term when describing Elon Musk.[9]
  • WeWork founder Adam Neumann has been said to have a reality distortion Field[10]
  • A parody of a reality distortion field appeared in a 2010 Dilbert strip in which a reality distortion field emitter is used during a keynote speech by Dogbert.[11]
  • Columnist Yen Makabenta of The Manila Times opined that Rodrigo Duterte's rise to prominence and appeal to the masses–in spite of allegations of human rights violations and Duterte's obscene remarks towards individuals and organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church, which the Philippines has a significant population of adherents–have generated a reality distortion field. He added that while Duterte's vulgar and sexually charged comments during his presidential campaign have alarmed many and were initially seen as detrimental to his victory as a presidential candidate, he exhibited charisma which accounted for why people still campaigned for him in spite of said behavior.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Hertzfeld, Andy (February 1981). "Reality Distortion Field".
  2. ^ Dudrow, Andrea (October 16, 2000). "Notes from the Epicenter: Exploring the Reality Distortion Field". CreativePro.
  3. ^ "RIM Responds to Apple's 'Distortion Field'". Inside BlackBerry. October 19, 2010. Archived from the original on October 20, 2010. Retrieved December 11, 2010.
  4. ^ "The Ajax Reality Distortion Field". April 12, 2005. Archived from the original on June 18, 2010.
  5. ^ Ferriss, Tim (November 21, 2010). "How It Works: Clinton's "Reality Distortion Field" Charisma".
  6. ^ Darrach, Brad (1972-08-11). "Bobby is Not a Nasty Kid". Life. p. 40. Retrieved March 25, 2013.
  7. ^
  8. ^ O'Brien, Timothy L. (2016-06-16). "A Peek Inside Trump's Smoke and Mirrors Tour". Bloomberg View. Retrieved 2016-07-29.
  9. ^ Richard Waters. Elon Musk, billionaire tech idealist and space entrepreneur. Financial Times.
  10. ^ Wiedeman, Reeves (2020). Billion dollar loser: the epic rise and spectacular fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork (First ed.). New York. ISBN 978-0-316-46136-8. OCLC 1175677200.
  11. ^ "Dilbert comic strip for 2010-09-23". The official Dilbert comic strips archive.
  12. ^ Makabenta, Yen. "Duterte has his own 'reality distortion field'". Retrieved 2020-11-29.