Writers and travellers alike do their best work when they don’t know what they’re looking for; disorientation requires problem-solving, and a new landscape holds secrets still. These days, I never totally unpack my suitcase. I buy only folding toothbrushes. I leave, often, on short notice—my record is three and a half hours before takeoff, for a transatlantic trip—and I like my mind best when it’s on the move. To land somewhere unfamiliar is to force yourself into alertness, to redraw whatever maps you have, to set the stage for creativity more than mere pattern-matching productivity.
After 13 short days of trial, Ross Ulbricht has been convicted of running the unprecedented, anonymous online black market known as the Silk Road. In terms of drama, those days included everything: a hidden drug empire, a secret journal, lofty ideals, friendship and betrayal, deception, threats of violence, and in the end, a highly coordinated law enforcement sting operation. The jury in Ulbricht’s case deliberated for only three and a half hours before convicting him on all counts, including conspiring to sell narcotics, hacking software and counterfeit documents, and a “kingpin” charge usually reserved for organized crime bosses. But despite that quick outcome, the case will be remembered for delving into issues as varied as bitcoin’s legal status as money, the FBI’s right to warrantlessly hack into foreign servers used by Americans, and the power and limits of anonymity on the internet.