I had the good fortune this week to meet the inventor of the world wide web Sir Tim Berners Lee. He is currently touring Australia and after he gave a public lecture at Melbourne University, I was lucky enough to attend a private session thanks to the AUDA and meet him personally.
Firstly, I’d like to say he was a total gentleman, who is very humble for all that he has given us. Over drinks I asked him what seemed like the first non techie question he’d been asked all night, and his answer I found totally inspiring. The dialogue is below:
Me: “Tell me how it feels to have created something everyone loves and uses every day…. How do you cope with all the attention and adulation?“
Tim: “Well, I’m just Tim, a normal guy around campus. But, it is interesting you asked that, because I made a conscious decision to avoid the public sphere for the first 10 years after I created it. I didn’t do any interviews or make any public appearances. Mainly so it wouldn’t interfere with my family. About 10 years into the web I received a letter telling me that I was to receive the Millenium Prize in Finland. It turned out that the ceremony happened to be on my son’s birthday. So I wrote back to them saying that I couldn’t make it on that day as it was my son’s birthday. That I could come if they changed the date. They then wrote back to me saying something like… ‘You don’t understand Tim, this is like a really big thing, and the dates can’t be changed….’ And then I wrote back saying, ‘No, you don’t understand, nothing gets in the way of my family, I’m very honoured, but you’ll have to give it to someone else.’ Well – in the end they were determined that I come and suggested they fly our entire family over so that we could still celebrate his birthday as a family, and so that I could still get the prize, and that they would pay respect to my sons birthday at all the ceremony. So I asked my son Ben and he was ok with it. In fact, he really enjoyed his birthday as entire auditoriums sang him happy birthday and he had something like 5 birthday cakes while we were there.”
I thought this was cool and grounded. In fact, it’s a terrific thing when someone you respect greatly, gives you more reasons to respect them after you’ve actually met.
(A photo with Tim – He said ‘Send me a copy of the photo!‘ – but I’m sure he says that to every fan boy who asks for a picture.)