I’d only met Aaron Swartz once on the couches of the EFF office during the 2nd week of my new job. I had no idea who he was during that very brief exchange, but I went to my browser afterward and looked up his name. When I read about his work and the roles that he had played in freeing information and knowledge, I felt like an idiot for not having heard of him before. I was in awe of his dedication and inspired by the courageousness of his acts. I really looked forward to when I could get another chance talk to him again.
There are so many things wonderful about the hacking community…the celebration of curiosity, the open-mindedness to acknowledge the interconnectedness of things, but most of all, the ethic of seeing a problem and doing what you can to fix it. Learning about his life and reading about the kind of person that he was, it seems Aaron embodied so fully what I find so beautiful about the hacker spirit. His craft was coding, but his intellect was the fuel for his art: creating tools, building campaigns, and demonstrating acts of civil disobedience that were meant to expose deep societal, political flaws. To me, he represented the quintessential 21st century activist.
The more I delve into the world of intellectual property, the more I learn about its intricate failures and abuses. The amount of distrust, insecurity, and greed that is continually involved in the creative-industrial complex, and worse, the fact that they claim to do it in the name of furthering progress, is horribly nauseating.
Despite all of this, I know that the movement to free culture and information will win, not just because the old edifices of creative production and academic publishing are already crumbling. But more importantly, the movement is full of brilliant, committed people who are fighting for justice and the liberty of culture.
On Friday, we lost one of our very best. The amount of public outpouring of grief is a testament to the amount of love everyone had for him and everything that he stood for. And maybe he hadn’t been feeling it, or didn’t know to ask for it, but it’s obvious that it was there all along.
When we’re fighting a system that seems so rigged, so ethically rotten to its core, it’s really hard not to fall into a cycle of despair. With Aaron’s tragic passing and the sudden public revelation of the gross maltreatment of him by the justice system, these horrific events serve as a rallying call for this movement to pick up where he left off. That begins by finding the courage to face up to the powerful, institutionalized system of insecurity and greed, and do so in whatever form that may take. We also need to remember to be fair to ourselves, and knowing our limits so that we don’t burn ourselves out. We need to be able to trust and support each other enough to ask for and give help whenever we can.
Let’s keep working until we recognize a world we, and he, would want to live in.
RIP Aaron Swartz (1986-2013)