Steve Klabnik blogged about _why being a persona, not an actual person. It’s a good read (as all of Steve’s posts are): why-is-a-role-not-a-person.
Steve is a smart guy, and his post is full of wisdom about the world of celebrity, and about _why in particular.
But _why is real!
I think Steve is wrong about _why being just an act, because _why was much closer to being a real person than, say, an actor or a sports person. _why was a really real person, and he was somehow doing these really amazing things that most of us can (and do) only dream of doing. He was being creative. Really, truly creative. _why’s creativity unleashed a huge amount of stuff — funny, inspiring and amazing stuff, and it left a huge impression on big chunk of people. Isn’t that what most of us also-real people dream of doing?
However, the actual man behind _why clearly wanted _why to be an act, because he kept his two lives so very separate. Steve says it’s wrong to track _why down, and he’s absolutely right. I don’t know if people are trying to track him down right now, maybe that’s what prompted Steve to write that post (I really don’t know, I just see a _why article and jump right on the _why bandwagon!).
Why the obsession?
_why’s legacy is more than just a bunch of useful Ruby source code and a PDF book with some funny foxes. For example, I don’t think I ever really wanted a blog of my own until I saw Redhanded. That style of doodling-mixed-with-text was just great, and it instantly made me want to start a blog. Sadly, I don’t have _why’s ability to write, doodle, or mix the two. But it inspired me, and you have this blog as a result. I think lots of people were inspired in many different ways by _why’s work.
_why did many things, but I think the biggest by far was the work he did towards the greater goal of bringing programming to the next generation of children. He started Hackety Hack, for example. This one, single, goal (combined with his inimitable _why style) resonated so strongly, with so many people, that I think it explains why so many people wanted _why to be a real person (and to stick around in the community). If you don’t believe that this goal of educating young programmers (mixed with a great plan to achieve it) could have that kind of effect, you should go to the Raspberry Pi site (a different sort of project but with similar goals) and read the comments (especially from the early days of the project, just after they announced). It resonates.
_why was unique and, seemingly, very genuine. If we aim to emulate _why, it should be that uniqueness and genuine-ness, not his actual style (foxes above excepted, and apologies for the lack of question mark too). The work he started with Hackety Hack continues, and the project is very polished and very mature now… but… you could be forgiven for wondering, just a little every once in a while, what might have been had _why stuck around.
He recorded an album. It’s not going to be for everybody (what music is? I’m Biritsh, so I don’t know the proper term, but I’d call it American indie/garage-rock, a bit like a slightly rockier version of Postal Service maybe). I love it, and you can listen to it on Spotify. Making Sense is a particularly good song.
P.S. This post ended up quite rambling and without much purpose. Sorry about that.
P.P.S. Sorry also for the lack of links. It’s late and I wanted to blast this out. You should check out the Hackety Hack project though, it’s excellent.