Disinformation is a term often associated with the CIA and other such groups of secret spooks and quasi-governmental weirdos. It is essentially a kind of portmanteau word suggesting a mixture of truth and lies used as a manipulative information smokescreen. How benevolent or sinister the disinformation is usually depends on context, motivation, and an arcane alchemical formula that determines the level and degree of truth and fiction in the overall mix.

All of us, to some extent, are subjected to semi-lethal doses of disinformation on a daily basis. Some of us are totally sucked in by it and, as the Zen teaching so aptly puts it, consistently mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself. Some of us are merely bemused by it and can appreciate, to varying degrees, the underlying element of play going on behind all the elaborate smoke and mirrors.

Despite the fact that the ancient Sumerian word for temple is ‘bar’, when you enter a late-night music club, disinformation is almost the lingua franca for staff and customers alike. And although the bullshit quotient is usually quite high and generally transparent, occasionally the conversation veers into that bizarre arena that might contain an element of truth, or simply be a purposefully planted morsel of disinformation. For example, the other night, I got chatting with a guy who is the chief technical officer for a large international company.

He was obviously out to impress. He spent a ridiculous sum of money on champagne, brandy and other assorted drinks, and also a good deal of his time telling everyone how expensive his car was and that he had recently purchased several houses at around one million pounds each. He said he’d previously worked for IBM and did seem to have a reasonable knowledge of various technological issues that came up in conversation. But he was more interested in dropping names and, in particular, talking about his contacts within Dell. This is where the conversation started to get strange.

Without giving away too much about my connection with the industry in general, or Apple in particular, we gradually worked round to Apple via his interest in his iPod. He began to explain to me that within two to three months, Dell was going to buy Apple. This took me a bit by surprise and also struck me as highly unlikely, so I played along for a bit and tried to find out why Steve Jobs would even consider such a move and where this punter had gleaned this information. I suggested that particularly at the moment, there didn’t seem to be any logical reason why Apple would be considering selling out to anyone, especially a company like Dell. OK, Dell is very successful and gets a lot of corporate sales. Apple has recently announced that it’s moving to Intel processors, which has raised a lot of eyebrows. But still, what would be the carrot that would make such a deal attractive to Apple?

Although nothing is all that clear after a few drinks, the source of the rumour seemed to have originated with someone very high up and close to Michael Dell. Indeed, our big-spending friend implied that he knew Michael Dell very well. The reason he gave, as to why Steve Jobs would sell Apple was overly simplistic – money. But why, I asked, would that be enough motivation for someone like Steve Jobs, who already has quite a lot of money via Pixar, NeXT and Apple, to sell a company he started and came back to as almost a labour of love? And besides, wasn’t Steve still more or less the ‘hippie’ of the industry?

According to our increasingly inebriated friend, this is all part of a plan that merely started with the announced move to Intel processors and that Steve would make even more money through the sale. He would also go down in history as the man who started Apple, saved Apple and eventually sold Apple. And, the extra money he would make from the deal would free him up and give him even more scope to fund other creative projects he has in mind. Besides, said our friend, adopting a slightly more aggressive tone, all this was effectively a done deal. If I didn’t believe him, just wait two or three months.

While I was bemused by this guy’s banter and can appreciate, to varying degrees, the underlying element of play going on behind all the smoke and mirrors, the whole scenario put an interesting perspective on the concept of disinformation and how we need to contextualize what we see and hear before we actually begin to believe it. Sure, his credentials were reputable within the industry and he really does work for the company he says he does. That’s true and verifiable. Did he recently buy five houses for over a million pounds each to manipulate the property market in the south east? I don’t know. Does he have a reliable contact within Dell who passed on a piece of explosive information as a market tip? I don’t know that for sure either. What I do know is that from what I know of Steve Jobs, any such sell-out would be highly unlikely. Not long ago, at that Stanford graduation ceremony, Steve spoke in almost alchemical terms about how we’ve got to find what we love and that the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what we believe is ‘great work’. To me, that does not sound like someone planning to sell Apple to a company like Dell.

But then again, disinformation is a strange beast. And sometimes those misleading fnords appear from unlikely sources. That’s when subjectivity requires a choice. Personally, I’d like to think that Steve Jobs really believes it’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting, and often, that doesn’t require accumulating more money just for the sake of it. I also choose to believe that he was sincere when he advised graduates to stay hungry and stay foolish. And I’d like to think that Apple will always adhere to those guidelines. But when it comes to disinformation, who really knows exactly what the level and degree of truth and fiction is in the overall mix? I’ll have to get back to you on that in two or three months time... MW