Last night, I read the very unfortunate news about the suicide of 26-year old Aaron Swartz. Although I am not sure if I should bring this under people’s attention, I genuinely think Aaron’s story needs our reflection, silent or otherwise.
In case you have not heard about Aaron’s story, here’s a link to Harvard’s prof. Lessig reflecting on Aaron’s unfortunate decision to end his life.
From what I gather myself, Aaron was way beyond intelligent. If you’d only briefly read his blog, you’ll notice this right away. That he co-developed the RSS-protocol I use every day is only one way in which he contributed to my world.
I think Aaron, like so many in our young generation, stood up for a good cause. Somehow and in some way, our generation longs for honesty to be put back in business. Unfortunately however, this little guy’s cause, a cause for the greater good of society, does not make you very popular these days. The intellectual honesty it takes to undertake efforts that help paradigms to change for the better, has – somewhere along the way – become a too big of a threat to well established and well connected “big” profit centers.
One of the many links Aaron shared through his blog, was a link to an article by Spiegel. An article that I also read at the time. I had a particular interest in this article since, in my opinion, it gave yet another illustration of the profound understanding that open access triggers progress. This simple insight however, conflicts with current legal paradigms. Currently, the doors to knowledge are only opened after its gatekeepers are rewarded handsomely.
Aaron tried to find a new way to bring open access to a whole new technological level. As I argued a couple of years ago for changing the IP-paradigm through changing the monopolistic rewards given through patent law, Aaron chose to go at it another way. He developed a way to “open the portals” to have access to scientific knowledge at zero marginal costs to society. He surely did his part of our generation’s struggle, albeit he did so in a way that got him into real nasty judicial problems.
Considering his case in the judicial sense, I can only express my sincere hope Aaron’s story ingrains our societies of another protocol. A protocol he so vehemently desired for and also one, for which he so vigorously was prosecuted for. It seems the obvious, but what he got accused of and prosecuted for should never get this ludicrous. Did he cross the line? Perhaps. Should he have been prosecuted in this way? I think not. Not by legal protocol.
As much as I regret Aaron’s decision to unsubscribe from his life in our multidimensional communities, I think this news should mean something. Perhaps this *something* is found with our silent reflection. Perhaps it is found with an upload of one of our papers as academics and others have decided to do.
Perhaps indeed, we will find a little bit of closure through a little bit of disclosure, bit by bit.
Aaron, rest in piece.