~RIP Aaron Swartz~
May you reach binary heaven.
“Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations.”
Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto (2008)
Frank Kingdom once said that “questions are the creative acts of intelligence.” His words are so powerful. Tonight I was going to post about something else, but when I signed on to the internet, I learned about a tragedy. I am saddened to learn that one of the greatest pioneers of the open movement has paid the ultimate price in his quest for knowledge.
Aaron Swartz the founder of Demand Progress, paid with his life on Friday. The 26 year old was just a baby in the world of technology. He was facing federal charges, close to 40 years in prison, and at least a million dollars in fines for his part in a political movement demanding the freedom of information. In the words of Herodotus,”this is the bitterest pain among men, to have much knowledge but no power.”
The young genius is said to have killed himself, but I can’t help but wonder if that’s true. If information and knowledge is power, how much can you demand before the powers that be make sure you disappear? I used the digital library JSTOR (Journal Storage) just yesterday to write my last post Seduce the Moon. Swartz has hacked that library and some close to him say he was depressed about the decisions he made.
As a hero, Swartz authored the Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto. He didn’t sign the manifesto because he did not believe in the ownership of information. Swartz called it “outrageous” and “unacceptable” that scientific articles are provided “to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South.” If you have never read or do not know of this manifesto, I would encourage you to read it.
The dark haired champion said “we need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.”
He has been called a political martyr, a hacktivist, a web genius, a felon, a committed liberator of information, a hero, a distinguished hacker, a pioneer, and an open access guerrilla. Swartz was all of those things~ though I think he was indeed a felon with good intentions. He was more brave than I. May he rest in peace among the 1z and 0z. May his soul reach binary heaven where knowledge is freely available.