There are few greater tragedies than a young person taking their life. In the untimely death of Aaron Swartz, the tragedy comes atop his controversial efforts to “steal” millions of journal articles from an electronic archive”” to make them available to the public, for free. Swartz was facing trial for his efforts and if convicted, faced a long prison sentence with the potential for huge fines.
Like the legend of Robin Hood, Swartz attempted to take from the rich and give to the not-so-rich. And like Robin Hood, Swartz had ardent detractors as well as ardent fans for attempting to raid the digital archives of elite institutions. No less noteworthy was his role in creating RSS, a godsend for individuals who want to gather updated digital information in one centralized location without lifting a finger.
Swartz’s accomplishments as a ‘pioneer’ in the digital world stood just as much as political actions that challenged the very foundations of our society as much as they did technological breakthroughs. Swartz was THE prototype for the 21st Century political activist who chaffed at the capitalist barriers that dictate most of our social relationships.
For Swartz, it seems, some things weren’t for sale. Some things, like knowledge, were just too precious to hoard for all but the most affluent in society. For Swartz, the public literally had “the right to know.”
Perhaps Swartz will be left to the void of forgotten history and remembered only among a narrow group of digital populists. Maybe he won’t be remembered at all for the things he accomplished and the things he tried to accomplish. But it is Aaron Swartz and those like him who truly provide our society with a conscious and an alternative path, should we ever choose to take it. That is, not everything in society has a price-tag. There are some things in society that are so precious that they cannot be bought and sold to the exclusion of those who do not have the means to do so.
Aaron Swartz saw this and he tried to change how the system functions. Aaron Swartz did change the way our system functions and by pursuing a similar vision his memory, and the memory of those who have strived in a similar vein, will never really be forgotten. Like him or not, Aaron Swartz did what so many people don’t have the courage to do: he sacrificed much of his life to pursue a greater good that he believed in. I can’t think of anything better to say about someone’s life.