Three intriguing pieces of journalism about the new threats of a digital age.
O’Hagan (The Illuminations, 2015, etc.) is known as a three-time Man Booker Prize–nominated novelist, but he’s also a razor-sharp London-based reporter, as evidenced by these three stories from “the wild west of the Internet, before policing or a code of decency.” His subjects are diverse and mostly well-known. In the first, “Ghosting,” the author describes how he assumed the unenviable position of ghostwriting the autobiography/manifesto of Julian Assange, the infamously imperiled WikiLeaks founder. “It needs to be more like Ayn Rand,” said Assange during one of their strange meetings. “I don’t know if I can help you with that,” was the author’s straightforward reply. Describing his subject as “a cornered animal,” O’Hagan delivers a troubling portrait of paranoia, trespasses, and consequences that feels unique because of the writer’s unique proximity to his subject. The second work, “The Invention of Ronald Pinn,” is equally dark, chronicling O’Hagan’s successful attempt to create a real identity for a long-dead man. He succeeded in generating an income with Bitcoins and buying heroin and counterfeit money online. “To the moderators of Silk Road or Agora,” writes the author, “the world is an inchoate mass of desires and deceits, and everything that exists can be bought or sold, including selfhood, because to them freedom means stealing power back from the state, or God, or Apple, or Freud. To them, life is a drama in which power rubs out one’s name; they are anonymous, ghosts in the machine, infiltrating and weakening the structures of the state and partying as they do, causing havoc, encrypting who they are.” The third story, “The Satoshi Affair,” finds O’Hagan tapped to reveal the identity of Craig Wright, an awkward Australian computer scientist, as “Satoshi Nakamoto,” the cryptic inventor of Bitcoin, only to find that even his real subjects can be frauds after all.
Three well-written but fleeting vignettes from some of the darkest edges of the internet.