Jack Dorsey Got The Idea For Twitter By Listening To Police Scanners As A Kid, Wants To Be Mayor Of NYC

03.18.13 6 years ago

Last night 60 Minutes aired a profile of Twitter and Square founder Jack Dorsey that was fairly interesting for a number of reasons, perhaps chief among them being that the idea for Twitter originally sprang from Dorsey spending time listening to a police scanners as a kid.

Jack Dorsey started thinking about the software he’s built in Silicon Valley nearly 30 years ago when he was growing up in St. Louis. He had a speech impediment as a kid and spent a lot of time alone at home, playing with computers when he was eight. He taught himself how to build computer programs before he was a teenager. Dorsey was fascinated by trains and maps and he used to spend hours down at these train yards.

Studying trains was the beginning of his life-long obsession to learn how things work in the real world and translating that into the virtual world. Young Jack was intrigued by the messages he heard coming out of the St. Louis emergency dispatch center. At home he listened to it all on a police scanner. And he was struck by the fact that everyone talked in short bursts of sound – a system of communication that later inspired him to invent Twitter.

Jack Dorsey: They’re always talking about where they’re going, what they’re doing and where they currently are. And that is where the idea for Twitter came was now we all have these cell phones. We had text messaging. And suddenly we could update where I was, what I’m doing, where I’m going, how I feel. And then it would go out to the entire world.

Dorsey — not the most outgoing billionaire I’ve seen, that’s for sure — also revealed that his dream job is to be mayor of New York City. And it’s a dream he plans to pursue.

Everything seems to be working for Jack Dorsey. The Wall Street Journal Magazine named him Technology Innovator of the Year. Accepting that award brought him back to New York, a city he fell in love with when he worked for the dispatch company he hacked into. Dorsey may spend most of his life in the virtual world, but he’s still fascinated by real world systems and Manhattan, with its subways, is the biggest system on earth. It may seem like an unrealistic ambition for such a reserved person, but Dorsey not only wants to move here someday, he wants to run for mayor.

Jack Dorsey: What I love about New York is just the electricity I feel right away. I mean just look at us in this station. There’s just people walking everywhere and everyone.

Lara Logan: Chaos?

Jack Dorsey: It’s chaos. It’s kinda like being in a car in the middle of a thunderstorm, right. Everything is raging around you, but you’re safe inside that car. So New York feels very much to me like that.

Jack Dorsey knows it helps to be a billionaire if you run for mayor in New York. It’s worked before. But if he’s serious about running, and he says he is, it will be interesting to see just how he communicates with the voters.

Lara Logan: Do you find it easier to communicate with people via Twitter or face-to-face?

Jack Dorsey: I guess my natural state would be through mediation of letters or through texts, all those mediums, I definitely find ease with. But do I appreciate as much as face-to-face communication? No. Do I feel like I’m an expert in having a normal conversation face-to-face? Absolutely not. That’s just not my natural state. I would rather be walking Land’s End and thinking about things.

Here’s the complete interview. Enjoy…

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