Collected writings of Aaron Swartz (1986-2013), prescient programmer and technology critic.
Swartz remains a beloved figure, due in part to the unfortunate circumstances of his death. In 2013, he committed suicide following an arguably overzealous federal prosecution for downloading large quantities of scholarly articles while at MIT. This approachable anthology allows his ideas and general philosophy regarding the importance of transparency to further speak to his legacy. The large volume of Swartz’s writings has been organized into sections, with notes by writers and scholars, including Cory Doctorow, David Segal, Lawrence Lessig, and Astra Taylor. Lessig provides the introduction. “In the essays collected here,” he writes, “you can watch a boy working on many problems at the same time….Few of us will ever come close to the influence this boy had.” The organizational focus on such diverse topics as “Free Culture,” computers, politics, “Unschool,” and books (in his spare time, Swartz wrote enthusiastic reviews from his prolific reading, promoting the work of like-minded thinkers) reveals the broad nature of Swartz’s worldview. In his own words, he wanted to counter “a social norm that how much we discuss something should be roughly proportional to its importance.” His writing is ideally suited to longer, discursive essays on prickly social issues—much like his professed idol, David Foster Wallace—shown here in sharp, funny pieces on the capture of the political process by special interests and on the creativity-killing nature of contemporary public education. Much of Swartz’s work originally appeared online, and some essays discuss his work on projects like Wikipedia and the RSS web format. Swartz seems clearheaded and generous in his discussion of technology while always emphasizing collaboration and open access: “I often think that the world needs to be a lot more organized.” While his conceptual and argumentative brilliance is certainly present, there’s also a youthful naiveté here, which makes for a wistful reading experience.
An important record of forward-looking thought cut short.