Aaron Swartz and why young crusaders are needed

I did not know Aaron Swartz but he represents all the ideals that we value in youth, across cultures, nationalities and races. Keen intelligence which led him to co-author the RSS 1.0 specification when he was just 14 years old. Idealism and strong sense of values which made him an untiring crusader for the cause of Open Access (free access to scholarly research materials through the internet) and SOPA. It was in support of Free Access that Swartz  undertook to download millions of paid research articles from the JSTOR archives which he intended to circulate through free P2P networks. Rare openness and honesty, manifested in his willingness to talk about his struggle with depression.

A selfless, intelligent young individual who is unafraid to stand for what is right - is this not a person we would all value?

So, it surprises me, when I plow through the many tech sites (all of which are carrying copious and generous tributes to Aaron), that the comments of readers are notably lacking in sympathy. Some feel that he got what he deserved in exchange for 'stealing' documents, others think that it is unfair to blame the government or institutions for prosecuting him when the problem at the crux of his suicide was depression. Many, who claim to be students, do not agree with his notions of 'copyright' and believe that profit motive is important in academics/ information, as in all things in life.

And for myself, I worry that there are so few Aaron's in the world. Youth is a time to be fearless in asking difficult questions, to be insanely and effortlessly brilliant, and yes, also to be idealistic and crusade for change. Time enough to become a money-worshipper when you are tied to a job, and a desk for a living. 

I worry that kids today will grow up without understanding the democracy of the internet. Without understanding why the open source and open access movements are important for the future. Grow up thinking torrenting and cracking software passwords is cool (because it makes corporations look stupid) without questioning why there are not more free alternatives for people. Grow up thinking there is nothing higher than flashing an iPhone or iPad at their less fortunate friends and pestering their parents to buy them one, rather  than trying to build their own phone or tab!

Governments, authorities and the establishment in general, are a little in awe of all movements and protests that are youth centric, rightly recognising that the voice of the future is demanding change and reform. If we want a truly democratic and free internet to co-exist with the commercial internet, then we need young people to fight for it. Even in his short life, Aaron inspired real change, with JSTOR not only dropping charges against him, but also making many of its archives free to access. 

I cannot begin to describe how bad I feel that so brilliant a man, chose such an untimely death. I can only think how much more he would have achieved by living, fighting and inspiring others. As his death has brought back into focus the issues that he has fought for all his life, I hope that many others will choose to carry the fight forward. The world needs many more crusaders for a free internet.


  1. Remember Shawn Fanning and Napster? More than ten million youngsters signed up on his website. He also received $15 million from venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. When Napster Inc. was sued, his supporters claimed that individuals had a moral and legal right to lend to other individuals a copy of the music on the CDs they had purchased. Metallica (the group) had new eavesdropping software developed. Many people predicted that Napster was just the beginning of an upheaval that would revolutionize the music industry, forcing the music companies to
    lower their prices
    change their business models
    make their music easily available on the net

    Napster paved the way for decentralized peer-to-peer file-distribution programs, which have been much harder to control.


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