America Grieving Over Aaron Swartz’ Death; MIT President Promises a “Full Investigation”

January 16, 2013

Uncategorized

Swartz’s friend: Government bullied him

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Weinberger: With Aaron Swartz’s suicide, something essential about the Net has died
  • He says Swartz not just “hacker” but prescient prodigy who made huge contributions
  • He says zealous prosecutors wanted to jail him, but he saw information as public good
  • Writer: Swartz embodied what is best about the Net — sharing, connectedness, promise

Editor’s note: David Weinberger is a senior researcher at theHarvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society and author of “Too Big to Know” (Basic Books).

(CNN) — Four days after the death of Aaron Swartz, the digital innovator and blazing intellect, why are millions of strangers on the Internet still mourning as if some essential part of us has died? The answer is simple: It has.

We can understand — but of course not fathom — the grief of Aaron’s loving parents, of his friends and of people like me who were privileged to have known Aaron over his short years. To understand the depth of feeling among those who never met Aaron, we have to get past the convenient pegs the media have used to explain his story…

He was also a hardheaded fighter for justice. He was acutely aware of the advantages conveyed by accidents of birth: country, race, class, gender, sexuality and more. Access to information and to one another were, to Aaron, tools in the struggle to lessen the world’s raw unfairness.

Swartz’s suicide sparks talk about depression

Swartz’s friend: Government bullied him

Still, thinking of Aaron mainly as a software activist is one more peg we should undo. The world has rarely seen an intellect as voracious and comprehensive as Aaron’s. He was a seeker after first causes and had the mental prowess to plow through massive amounts of information and ideas, simultaneously considering the data, the pragmatics, the theory, and the theory of theory.

His insight helped inspire Lawrence Lessig’s Harvard-based anti-corruption campaign (Rootstrikers) and two groundbreaking progressive grass-root organizations (Demand Progress and theProgressive Change Campaign Committee). From these platforms, and with his remarkable skills as a writer, he was able to play a crucial role in alerting the Net to the dangers of the Stop Online Piracy Act that would have given the government more power to shut down sites at the blink of the content industry’s stink eye.

Put this together and you still don’t have that which the Net is mourning. Aaron didn’t just contribute ferociously to the Net.

It wasn’t just that he was persecuted out of all proportion for trying to contribute more. Above all, he embodied what is best and hopeful about the Internet: its endless information, its ethos of sharing, its joy in connecting friends and strangers, its unflinching transparency about its own limitations, its promise — by no means yet delivered — of a world that is more open, more knowledgeable, and, above all, more fair … a world that reflects the values of the Internet at its best.

That is why the Internet is so wracked with sadness. That is why we will never forget Aaron Swartz.

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