DEAD CELEB INTERVIEW: Internet hacktivist Aaron Swartz

By Mohi Narayan

Aaron Swartz profileThe Silicon Valley is not used to understanding political aspects of technical knowledge, which is a formidable power in the 21st century. Aaron Swartz was driven by politics and he detested the “politics of hiding information” by the state across the world.

“Programming in some sense is magic, it’s a tool which could be employed to solve problems which humans cannot solve,” Aaron told me in a single breath.

“I have great respect for Tim Berners-Lee. He created the web and gave it away for free,” he said. “He is the reason we have internet today.”

With a fanboy-like enthusiasm he went on to explain Berners-Lee’s vision for creating a “free” platform – the internet – which could connect the world, dismissing my claims that he was an early genius.

“I was a late addition to the world of internet,” he said.

The incredibly self-aware computer geek championed the cause of public access to public domains, like libraries of reputed universities and medical lab journals, at a tender age of 16 and never felt sidelined.

“They treated me like an adult. I think they started taking my seriously when I drafted the script for RSS feed with ‘adult’ teammates – that happened when I was 14,” Aaron laughed.

Aaron was 12 when he created The Info Network in his room. The website was his own Wikipedia, only five years before Wikipedia was founded.

“My idea was to create a knowledge-sharing platform. I don’t think our education system is efficient … we don’t need teachers to teach geometry at school. We can read it ourselves in books. The culture of reading on our own is never taught to us,” he said.

Aaron maintained that there are political aspects to technical abilities.

“What seems natural to us could not necessarily be so. We need to ask why it is so. And, I believe the internet can be of a great help at that, provided we have access to the right information at right time and that’s what I wanted to bring about – public access to public domains,” he added.


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