How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet Out of
by Jon Katz
- reviewed by Scott Butki
Jon Katz has written a powerful, moving story with
two unlikely heroes who call themselves geeks. But as Katz has explained
in his writings for Slashdot.org, geek isn't the insult it sometimes
seems. In fact some of them consider it a compliment, he said.
Most of the fascinating non-fiction book, centers
around the lives of teenage hackers Jesse Dailey and Eric Twilegar.
At the beginning of the book Katz introduces us to
them and their dreary lives in Idaho. They don't fit in to the Mormon
community because of a combination of anti-social behavior and finding
the Internet more interesting than non-computer activities.
Katz, in a rare break of journalistic detachment,
suggests they consider moving to a place where they could better
use their skills. And soon they are making plans to do exactly that
But they're not only human and prone to human error
but overly reliant on technology. So when they need to find an apartment
in Illinois the hackers use a search engine and don't see their
new home in person before signing rental agreements.
Oops. Their home ends up being quite a commute from
Chicago in an area without people their age. Katz kicks himself
for not pushing them harder to see the building before agreeing
to move there.
Katz is a Rolling Stone reporter who has also written
for other publications including Wired in addition to penning several
In the book Katz alternates between describing their
lives and the changes and quoting emails from the hackers. The result
is an engrossing tale. Katz shares the reader's frustration at times
as the hackers remain shy and choose to spend more time with their
computers than with other people.
But the reader is left rooting for Dailey as he makes
attempt to improve his life, including getting admitted to the University
of Chicago. Dailey knows his low grades and test scores make it
almost impossible that he will be admitted but hopes that will be
outweighed by past life experiences, including breaking laws, being
a former gang member and suffering through much family dysfunction.
It was during his work on this book, while continuing
his friendship with the hackers, that the school shootings at Littleton,
Colo. occurred. Katz describes in fascinating detail the reactions
of hackers around the world, including Dailey, as the media, schools
and governments demonize and stigmatize all hackers.
Katz becomes a hero of sorts to hackers as he writes
on Slashdot.org about his objections to these stereotypes and recounts,
sometimes quoting emails from hackers, how difficult their lives
have been made by institutions who don't understand their fascination
with violent games or black trench coats.
Interwoven throughout the book are excerpts from fascinating
emails Katz received from self-professed geeks about that label
and way of life. He refers to the geek movement as the "geek ascendancy."
But it is the story about the two hackers that keeps
the reader turning the pages and wanting more.
Ultimately I'm left pleased to have been able to live
vicariously through Katz as he covered this amazing story. The only
problem with a book covering a few years of these hackers' lives
is the questions remaining about what happens next in their adventure.
But that's what sequels are for, isn't it? Here's
hoping Katz will do exactly that someday.
Butki is a prolific reader and writer, living in Hagerstown,
Md. He welcomes your comments on this review.