Like many people, I’ve been fairly shocked at the suicide of Aaron Swartz a couple days ago. Here’s some background, if you haven’t read anything about it: Cory Doctorow’s obit post, and Lawrence Lessig’s Prosecutor as Bully.
I have two trains of thought on all this: On the first, I think back to being in high school and coming up against systems that just carried on, not bothering to question their relationship to their underlying purpose. Like an ‘American literature’ class which involved almost no actual reading, instead focusing entirely on grammar exercises. Or an ‘independent study’ art class which led, by a strange run of events, to a suspension from school after the Columbine shooting, as the school administration cast about to get rid of any student who reminded them too much of the tragedy in Colorado. The thing I had been working on was a comic book about the incredible tedium and irrational boundaries of life in an American suburb. Through my time in school I developed this sense that the vision of the people running the show was too narrow to understand what was possible: the admins were so interested in maintaining a status quo that there was no possibility of examining underlying assumptions, or addressing the contradictions in a school that treats its students like prisoners.
And then I moved on, and life got better.
Aaron Swartz was constantly running up against the contradictions between the old world and the new digital society, and taking concrete actions that exposed those contradictions and forced the conversation forward.