memory to myth
Tim Carmody of The Verge has written a nice remembrance of the recently deceased Aaron Swartz. Carmody talks about Aaron’s ideals and his ability to turn beliefs into action. It’s a nice tribute and one that made me think about my own ideals and commitments. I especially liked this section from the essay.
I also keep thinking about a point Aaron’s father made during his eulogy for his son in Chicago, and that Thoughtworks’ Roy Singham reprised in New York. Over and over again, we’ve seen technology companies, whether startups or giants, push the boundaries of the law for their own gain. We celebrate it. We call it “disruption.” The existing commercial powers largely understand its motivations and can deal with it using tools commercial powers understand: civil lawsuits, ad campaigns, market pressure, private agreements, buyouts, and payoffs.
Aaron didn’t play that game. After he sold Reddit, he couldn’t be bought. In fact, he was spending his own money, and his valuable time, on campaigns for the public good, and helping others to do the same. He was a realist about the government, media companies, and Silicon Valley. His experience with all of them made him grow up too soon. But he also never stopped being that not-even-teenager who believed in the utopian possibilities latent in the World Wide Web. He never stopped believing in the power of small groups of people who were willing to devote their attention to small problems and nagging details in order to create the greatest good for the greatest number. Aaron played in that space without resolving its tensions.
That’s a nice description of the kind of mentality that a dedicated activist must have if he or she is to endure the failures they’re likely to experience when pushing against the boundaries of authority and the status quo. Nevertheless, Aaron’s life is a reminder of just how difficult that struggle can be.