Monday, October 12, 2015

'It would be ridiculously easy to take over Australia'

The Internet's Own Boy:
The story of Aaron Swartz 
This title was the opinion of a young Aaron Swartz told to an Australian friend of his and published in the posthumous article on 'The Darker Side of Aaron Swartz' in The New Yorker magazine, along with this image of Swartz by illustrator Michael Gillette. Apparently, the only reason Swartz didn't attempt the takeover of an entire country - one that just happens to be my country - was because it only had 20 million people and wouldn't be worth the bother. Right.

Thing is, Swartz wasn't crazy. Far from it, in fact. The man was clearly a genius of epic proportions and, I guess, if anyone could single-handedly contrive the takeover of an entire country, even a small one, then he was probably that man, even if he was under twenty-five at the time he imagined he might.

Other thing is, Swartz (who hung himself aged 26 in Jan 2013, pending a trial and possible extended jail time over a computer data-theft crime that he had committed with the intention of giving everyone access to the world's best research and making the world a better place - and let me just say, in my opinion, Australia could do with taking over by someone as smart and noble as him), reminds me SO much, and uncomfortably so, of my first-born, who, like Aaron, taught himself to read and write as a preschooler, as well as to count backwards from 100 into the negatives, and to count up to 100 in Maori. At six he was banned from the local computer shop for tampering with the hard drive and pulled up for trying to pass off 'effing' - correctly spelt with two ff's - in an extended-family game of scrabble: 'Yes it is, you use it all the time'. He was talking to his father.

But this is no laughing matter. How do we raise and guide brilliant boys so they don't become so arrogant and angry, as I believe Aaron became, at least on the one hand, that they go off the rails and waste their exceptional potential, tragically, as in Aaron's case, or more quietly, like in the case of our brainy boy (now 22), though it's perhaps still early days for him?

That is the priceless question. The world needs these boys to grow into productive men, particularly in politics and positions of power, rather than simply in the world of technology, which they naturally favour, probably because there are fewer if any rules, and these brainy boys DON'T LIKE RULES.

Unfortunately, the world is full of rules and success rarely comes in world-changing, rule-shattering leaps and bounds, but rather in incremental, rule-tweaking gains made quietly and slowly, following many small failures. So perseverance rather than prodigy is really the name of the game.

To this end I was interested to read Aaron's father's comment in the New Yorker piece that he himself had hired many talented young computer programmers but those that had dropped out of college (as Aaron did - our boy almost never goes into the university any more) never finished anything.

If our budding programmer ever emerges from his room, I'll be sure to tell him this.


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