A Tribute to Aaron Swartz

This blog's Internet tag serves as a useful way of getting at everything I've ever written about online society. Shocking, I know, the tag serving its stated purpose! More importantly, in light of recent events, it is an excellent way of reading everything I've ever written about... well, what I have called "piracy" in the past, but what the subject of this post would probably not describe as such.

Yeah, I know, I'm a good three days late. Whenever it comes to writing about major events, this always seems to happen...

I digress. In case anyone wasn't already aware, Aaron Swartz committed suicide a few days ago, at 26 years old. I was only passingly familiar with his work and his ideas, despite the connection that I had to his family (one which I won't describe in detail, in keeping with my tradition of not discussing personal matters in this forum). Indeed, I don't feel informed enough even to provide a summary of his life; I would encourage people to follow the link to the Wired article for that.

Although, given some of the things I have found online in the wake of this tragic loss, I can safely say that I can add one more person to the list of people with whom I would love to meet and talk to in person... or rather, the subset of that list that is made up of the people for which that will never again be possible.

I am too late to discuss his ideas with him in person, but thanks to the Internet which he valued so highly, I have been able to read (some of) those ideas now. And more importantly, I've re-read the things that I've written - about SOPA when that was being considered, about Megaupload when that site was taken down, about the ways the American community watches anime.

I do believe that some of those ideas still stand. I believe that content creators should have the right to determine how their work is shared with others, whether that be posting to the Internet under a Creative Commons license or a DVD collection that costs a staggering three hundred and seventy dollars.

And yet, focusing on that (as I have done in the past) has caused me, in some major ways, to be guilty of missing the point to an almost staggering degree. Re-reading what I've written and what Aaron Swartz has argued for in the past has forced a rethinking of my own thoughts on these issues. Indeed, forced a rethinking on how I reacted to the "crime" which played a major role in this saga, Aaron's downloading of multiple different articles from JSTOR and his intention to make them widely available, although that reaction is one that I never discussed publicly.

To an extent, those reactions have been shaped by my concern over the way society functions now. My desire to play by the rules, and a personality that considers intentionally breaking the rules to be usually unjustifiable. This, then, was my failing: to discuss the issue as if the rules we play under today were inviolable. As if society cannot change. It is a failing that is all the more unbelievable considering the way I react to "society can't change" when the subject is misogyny. A failing that is frankly absurd considering that the rules in question, that led to federal prosecution for his actions, are ones that need to change.

Let this mea culpa, then, stand as my personal tribute to Aaron Swartz. If it were possible, I would beg his forgiveness, in that it had to come to this before I gave his ideas the attention they deserved... and I will work to ensure that I do not continue in the errors that have characterized my thinking on these issues.

My condolences go out to his family and friends, and I would encourage people to visit the memorial website that they have set up in his memory.

May you rest in peace, Aaron Swartz, knowing that your work will not go unfinished.

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