October 1, 2010 10:17 pm

The Inventory: Jimmy Wales

What was your earliest ambition?

When I was growing up in Huntsville, Alabama, we lived so close to the space centre that the windows would rattle when they were testing rockets. We were all really into space, technology, science and astronauts.

Independent or state school? University or straight into work?

I went to Randolph [independent] School, which was a fabulous experience. I did my bachelor’s at Auburn University and my master’s at the University of Alabama. University very much depends on the individual person, their preferences and needs in life, but for me it was absolutely worthwhile.

Who is your mentor?

There are a lot of people that I look up to. One is Larry Lessig, the law professor and founder of Creative Commons. He was one of the first people who realised what I was doing at Wikipedia.

How physically fit are you?

I travel too much, so it’s difficult to keep up with anything organised. When I’m here in Florida I go rollerblading and take my daughter on her bike.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

Persistence. It’s really about keeping on.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

When I was a child, but nobody ever told me the result.

How politically committed are you?

In terms of party politics, I’m not committed, I have no interest at all. But in terms of small-p politics – how to make the world a better place, how to engage people in democracy, that kind of thing – I’m very committed.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

I buy carbon offsets for my travel, though I’m not 100 per cent sure how helpful it really is.

Do you have more than one home?

Just my apartment in Florida, though I spend half my time in London.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

An iPad; I’m going to go and buy one later today.

What’s your big extravagance?

My Tumi luggage. It’s a bit pricy but I love the brand, it’s indestructible and thoughtfully designed.

Whereabouts in the world are you happiest?

In Florida spending time with my daughter, going for bike rides or spending time together on our computers.

What ambitions do you still have?

My goal for the next 10 to 20 years is to build Wikipedia in the languages of the developing world.

What drives you on?

What I do has to be intellectually interesting and fun. It’s very rewarding to see people beginning to access knowledge for the first time in parts of the world – and making it super-easy for them to access it.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

Wikipedia.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

I’m a pathologically optimistic person, so I find it hard to think of bad things.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?

He would probably tell me to go and take a closer look at that question on fitness and get on to it.

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

I’m such an internet addict, I would go to the public library and get online.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?

With reservations. I think that as long as there are safeguards and it really is about preserving human dignity and individual choice about the end of a person’s own life, it can be a positive and, ironically, life-affirming process.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

No, I don’t. Which gives you a perspective.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?

9.5. Things are good.

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