Give Me Slack
I was a mere lad of fifteen when I first encountered the Church of the Subgenius, a joke religion started by a group of prankster surrealists out of Austin and parts elsewhere. The faith is represented by J.R. “Bob” Dobbs, a grinning, square-jawed salesman with a pipe clenched in his square, white teeth, who promises “slack” to all who profess the faith.
Slack was — and is — an enticing concept. I always interpreted “slack” as a synonym for “forgiveness,” that is, the idea that our systems would have graceful failure modes, in which errors and failings were never terminal, and could always be redone. A philosophy for an age of “Save Game” and ⌘-Z.
I needed slack. After five years in a groovy public alternative K-8 school in Toronto, I landed in a highly structured secondary school that I found impossible to navigate. By the middle of my first term of ninth grade, I’d stopped attending classes: instead, I’d take the subway to the Toronto Public Library’s Metro Reference Library and spend my days requesting esoteric books from the library stacks and looking up odd news stories using the microfilm machines.
It took a couple of weeks before the high-school administrators noticed that I hadn’t been gracing the campus with my presence. They notified my (long-suffering, infinitely patient) parents, triggering an all night up-and-downer of a fight, in which I argued that I should be attending the local alternative secondary school.
I prevailed, and embarked on a seven-year high-school journey that saw me transferring schools, taking off a full year to organize street demonstrations against George Bush I’s invasion of Iraq and a second year to live in Baja California, Mexico and write. I graduated at the age of 21 as an “Ontario Scholar” and was admitted to the first of four undergraduate programs that I would attend over the next 2.5 years before I finally dropped out for good without attaining a degree.
Today, I hold an honorary Ph.D. in Computer Science. I’m the author of more than 20 books, including many international bestsellers. I am affiliated with three universities on two continents, have been a delegate to the United Nations, and have given expert testimony to the legislatures of a dozen or more countries.