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Powerful people make their own rules. Self-styled moguls, especially in the visionary end of the internet, tend to do the same.

So when a co-founder of Google shows up at a keynote wearing Vibram Five Fingers instead of regular, god-fearing shoes, it’s tempting to write it off as creative eccentricity.

But at the risk of having our Gmail account vaporized, we’re going to call this as the disaster it is.

Call it the Jobs effect.

The Steve of Steves has been wearing dad jeans and, shall we say, unassuming sneakers on stage for so long, they’ve become a symbol of godlike vision for everyone else in the valley. We actually like Brin’s ensemble outside of the shoes, but when he adds in the toe shoes, he starts to walk the line between “aloof genius” and “crazy person.”

It’s a matter of timelessness. If Jobs’ turtlenecks and Levi’s said anything, it was that he was a bit of a hippie and not bothered with impressing anyone. It was a look from the past, and the fact that he stuck with it meant his basic approach to the world hadn’t changed.

Adding a trendy item like the Vibrams throws the whole thing off. It says 2011 in a way that no self-respecting tech guru ever should. Ideally, they’d be more concerned with 2040. Even worse, it gives the impression that you’re just trying random things. That might well be true (that’s how you figure things out, after all), but it’s not a reassuring message to anyone about to sign on.

Maybe someone could slip him a pair of loafers?

—R.B.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • Russell Brandom