January 15, 2013

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[Update on 18 January: A memorial service will be held tomorrow in the Great Hall at Cooper Union in New York. Many will speak, me included. Register at the first link. I've also added many more links to the stack below. I've also put together a too-short collection of photos I've taken of Aaron over the years. They are all Creative Commons licensed to encourage re-use. So take 'em away. I'll add more as I find them.]

Aaron Swartz’ funeral is today, and I can’t get him out of my mind. None of us who knew him ever will.

That’s not just because he was a great guy, which he was. It’s because Aaron stood for something.

That thing is freedom. It won’t die, and never will.

Look up “Aaron Swartz” +freedom. Bookmark it. Go back often. Watch what happens.

Nobody was more native to the Net than Aaron, or more determined to save it from those who would limit the freedom it embodies and supports.

The Net is free because it embodies virtues we call NEA:

  • Nobody owns it
  • Everybody can use it
  • Anybody can improve it

Like air, oceans, sunlight, gravity and the periodic table, the Net is free for us all. Both socially and economically, it has positive externalities beyond calculation.

Yet pieces of the Net’s physical infrastructure, and much of what flows over it, are either property outright, or subject to property claims. Aaron was good at drawing distinctions between the two, and — far more importantly — building tools and services that made it easier to understand those distinctions and do more within the boundaries they provide. Creative Commons, for example. Aaron’s fingerprints on that one were applied when he was just fourteen years old.

David Weinberger writes, “Aaron Swartz was not a hacker. He was a builder.” In that post, David highlights Aaron’s many contributions — a remarkable sum for a man on Earth for less than 27 years.

Aaron is gone, and that won’t change. But his influence, like the freedom he loved, will only grow, thanks to the good work he did when he was here.

As I did in my last post, I’m going to add recollections of Aaron here. Unlike that other list, all these will deal with Aaron’s life, rather than just his death: