In the past decade, we’ve seen a steady of convergence of two worlds that, until recently, were alien to one another: the worlds of reclusive cutting-edge nerds and the world of view-hungry journalists.
Rembrandt’s The Philosopher In Meditation gives us a picture into the former’s world. Drawn in the 1630s, it pictures a genius plumbing the depths of philosophy (or maybe mathematics) away from the world. It’s that secluded and wondrous quietude that some people at the edge of their fields treasure. It allows them the focus they need to be creative.
In many ways, programming is where the modern day mathematician goes to innovate. As the internet has grown, it has flung this very private activity into the spotlight. Some engineers, like Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg, thrive and even take advantage of the spotlight. But they are exceptional.
Dong Nguyen, the creator of Flappy Bird, and Satoshi Nakamoto, pseudonym of the alleged creator of Bitcoin, prefer to be like Rembrandt’s philosopher. They crave quietude. They want the space to do what they love without outside interruption. Their contributions to the internet were built behind closed curtains.
But these reclusive folks face a new tech-crazed world where the techies are hotter than Hollywood. The Social Network, The Internship, and upcoming HBO’s Silicon Valley TV show are all Hollywood-ifying the tech world. And this is increasingly troubling for the philosopher in meditation.
Every journalist will follow you into the rabbit hole
As we can see with the hunt for Satoshi Nakamoto and Dong Nguyen, the journalists, in their hunt for views and breaking news, are especially annoying to the recluses. The journalist who grabs the most revealing and first interview with the tech hermit gets the grand prize for most views. And for that reason, modern journalists are no worse than the NSA. They will stop at nothing to find you.
Credible news outlets like Techcrunch, even, are so eager for these hits and stories that they’ll egg on their readers to fundraise entire trips just to swarm Dong Nguyen. Even while hidden far from Silicon Valley, in the capital of Vietnam, Dong Nguyen is not safe from the press; something he has repeatedly stated he is tired of.
I can call 'Flappy Bird' is a success of mine. But it also ruins my simple life. So now I hate it.
— Dong Nguyen (@dongatory) February 8, 2014
At the same time, shouldn’t hackers know better? Before the internet, the impact of a lone programmer was minimal. But today, all meaningful or significant pieces of code are flung across the internet and into virality. Fame should be expected. If you code, and you put your stuff online, don’t be surprised when a journalist comes knocking on your door.
Don’t lose focus on the story
At the core of this is a picture of a person’s identity. Once a view-hungry press gets a hold of your identity, it can suddenly spiral out of control. In the pursuit of views, the story takes a life of its own. And this is the most troubling concern for these introverted coders.
Dong Nguyen, with his accidental fame, never felt that the press understood him: “And also, I am sorry press people. You are not my players.” Satoshi Nakamoto, maybe a person or a group of people, has cleverly avoided the onslaught that Nguyen faces, as Jeff Garzik, a member of Bitcoin’s core developer group said:
We really don’t care. It’s not the individuals behind the code who matter, but the code itself. And while people have stolen and cheated and abandoned the bitcoiners, the code has remained true.
But it seems like that’s not the case according to our news feeds. The paparazzi locusts have descended upon the nerds. If you create anything of profound significance in the tech world, your private domain is forfeited.
(Editing by Paul Bischoff)