By Akhil Kumar:
Aaron Swartz will be remembered as a folk hero, the Robin Hood of the Internet. At a tender age of 14, when most of us struggle to understand computers; he co-authored an early version of the RSS 1.0, which has made it easy for us to stay updated on our favorite websites or blogs. Starting at that age he won many admirers and friends across the tech community and in general. He dedicated his short but impactful life to advocate internet freedom and actively fought against online censorship; his organization “Demand Progress” (http://blog.demandprogress.org/) was instrumental in fighting SOPA and PIPA, two highly controversial pieces of United States legislation to prevent piracy and protect Intellectual property. He committed suicide last Friday leaving the whole world shocked and petrified. His contributions to the online world can be gauged from this tweet from Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the web;
“Aaron dead. World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down. Parents all, we have lost a child. Let us weep.”
‘An end to an era’ would not suffice as this is instead a beginning; he has started intense debates in the public sphere about the freedom of the web and free information sharing. His belief that knowledge should be free and accessible to everyone has found voice in numerous scholars, researchers and students who have started sharing their research work for free on twitter (#pdftribute). Disappointed at the high costs of accessing research and scholarly journals; the internet activist allegedly liberated millions of academic articles from the nonprofit online database JSTOR by breaking into computer networks at M.I.T. , he was charged with multiple counts of wire fraud and computer fraud for this.
He was suffering from depression probably because of the legal troubles he got into and details of why he took this extreme step remain unclear. He was instantly branded a criminal and the case against him pursued as if they were prosecuting a terrorist, the mental harassment and trauma he must have gone through is understandable. It is a great loss to anyone who uses the internet, he was a hero and an inspiration for the youth who dream of bringing about change and stand for what they believe in. His motivation was purely ideological and did not do anything for monetary profits. He liberated information for free and fought against any force that aimed to censor freedom on the internet.
This unfortunate turn of events has shook me from within as he represents every such youth who is fighting for a cause and dares to tread against the mainstream; I say this at the risk of sounding ridiculous that when I remember him now an image of a self-immolating Tibetan subconsciously flashes in front of my eyes. Yes, I believe he is the first martyr in our struggle to save our voices and liberate knowledge from the confinement of intellectual property. He will live in our hearts along with the many revolutionaries as we try to stand by the ideals he embodied. Let us not just mourn his death but celebrate his ideals and take a lesson from his life.
I will let Henry Wadsworth Longfellow conclude for me:
“Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time.”