Scottish writer Andrew O'Hagan is a difficult man to dismiss. Here he tells three stories based around computers and two strange Australians and makes something weird and wild and kind of spectacular. The first story, "Ghosting," regards the time he was asked to interview for the opportunity to possibly ghostwrite Julian Assange's biography. O'Hagan is distant, observant, and precise, early on telling us
"It was interesting to see how he parried with some notion of himself as a public figure, as a rock star, really, when all the activists I've ever known tend to see themselves as marginal and possibly eccentric figures. Assange referred a number of times to the fact that people were in love with him, but I couldn't see the coolness, the charisma he took for granted."Assange comes across as a paranoid narcissist, deeply confused about his role and his life, about what he does and how he wants to be remembered. O'Hagan put the time in, listening and writing, and comes away burned.
The second story, "The Invention of Ronald Pinn," feels dangerous. O'Hagan takes on the identity of a young lad who'd died young, Ronnie Pinn, so that he, O'Hagan, could enter the Deep Web and see how it operated. O'Hagan's invented Pinn
"tended toward certain enterprises of his own volition...[including] with secretive experts about drugs and false documents and guns...The 'people' now moderating the Dark Web don't care about the old codes of citizenship and they don't recognize the laws of society. They don't believe that governments or currencies or historical narratives are automatically legitimate, or event that the personalities who appear to run the world are who they say they are. The average hacker believes most executives to be functionaries of a machine they can't understand."When O'Hagan finally gives up the online ruse, he finds Pinn lingers longer in cyberspace, and in his psyche, than he'd anticipated.
The final essay, "The Satoshi Affair," was originally published in LRB a year or so ago. It is a very long, totally immersive essay about the possible originators of Bitcoin, and what the currency will mean for revolutionizing business and banking. If you haven't read much about the subject, this is a good place to start. Don't worry if some of it slips by without your understanding. I have a feeling we're all going feel that way for quite awhile.
O'Hagan is special. You won't be wasting your time, reading about his fascinating digital interface with the world.
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