Ink and Graphite on Illustration Board (15″x 20″)
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Aaron Swartz, he pioneered the RSS feed at age 14, started Infogami (which later became Reddit.com) at age 18, and almost singlehandedly stopped the passing of the SOPA/PIPA bill in Congress last year. He dedicated his life to giving equal access to information, and was quoted in his Guerilla Open Access Manifesto saying, “Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves.”
I would also add that information is money, which is why it isn’t a surprise to me that in 2011, a federal grand jury indictment charged Swartz with wire and computer fraud for downloading large amounts of data from JSTOR, MIT’s digital repository of achives and he faced up to 35 years in prison. That’s more time that rapists and murderers get for what to me, sounds like checking out too many library books at one time. About a month ago, he was found dead in his Broolyn apartment, at age 26.
I think it’s safe to say Aaron Swartz was a boy genius; a serious free-thinker who used his prodigious talents toward something he believed in– at the risk of some serious consequences. I’m not sure why his suicide struck a nerve with me. Maybe it’s the fact that I worked for Google, maybe it’s because I feel like he was an artist too, of a different stripe– or maybe it’s that I’ve always been a bit suspicious of how our society handles shy, brainy, inconvenient idealists like him. But I think it’s clear that given his trajectory, he could have accomplished a lot more for our world if we had given him a chance. But I guess the sad truth is that he didn’t really have a chance, at least not in our society. His death reminded me of this quote by journalist and author, Mignon McLaughlin:
“Society honors its living conformists and its dead troublemakers.”
Rest in Peace, Aaron Swartz.