Aaron Swartz: an American tragedy

Aaron Swartz at a Boston Wikipedia Meetup
Aaron Swartz at a Boston Wikipedia Meetup (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was looking at a Facebook post yesterday from Scott Barry Kaufman: it was following his viewing of the documentary “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz” . Scott wrote:

If you haven’t watched this documentary about Aaron Swartz, I highly recommend that you do. It’s maddening how strongly the F.B.I. went after him, and the movie makes a lot of excellent points about the importance of academic freedom and the dissemination of scientific knowledge. I can’t remember the last time a movie made me cry, but I’m still wiping away tears thinking about the loss of this brilliant mind, and the insanity of the priorities of our criminal justice system.

I found that the film,in keeping with the open access to information that Aaron Swartz so brilliantly championed in his short but amazing lifetime, is free to view online on the “Internet Archive“. It can be found at the following address: https://archive.org/details/TheInternetsOwnBoyTheStoryOfAaronSwartz .

I watched the film and it did not make me cry. I had cried my tears for this remarkable young man when his suicide became an internet sensation. No, it made me angry that, as Lawrence Lessig states in the film, “a beautiful mind that still had so much to give to the campaign against political and commercial control of the web and the importance of the free availability of academic information, had left us so early. His hounding by the Federal Government and the State of Massachuesetts is beyond dispute, but the most unpleasant thing for so many of us who have always admired them, was the role in the prosecution (indeed some might say persecution) of Aaron Swartz by The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.).

The film is an important one and needs to be seen by as many people as possible, which is why I felt the need to publicise it on my blog. It is the modern political history of the United States, it is about a young genius who died before he could contribute so much more to the world he loved and wanted to change. It is about the hounding by the “Old World” of a champion of the “New World” (as one of his girlfriends puts it in the film: “The Old World killed him!). In the end though it has the stuff of great fiction, it is, without doubt a modern American tragedy.

I shall end with the wonderful words of Sir Tim Berners Lee, standard bearer for the World to come and inventor of the World Wide Web, that he gave away free so as to encourage the free flow of information:

Aaron is dead.

Wanderers in this crazy world,
we have lost a mentor, a wise elder.

Hackers for right, we are one down,
we have lost one of our own.Nurtures, careers, listeners, feeders,
parents all,
we have lost a child.Let us all weep.

 

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