The System Is Broken

In our race to succeed and excel, we often forget what is truly important. In the chase for glory and glamour, the value of simple and elementary pleasures are forgotten. They say that you realize the true value of something only when it is lost. They say that our most valuable possession is not our house, not our car and not our most expensive gadget, but it is life itself. Unfortunately, the value of life is realized only when we are confronted by death itself.

On January 11, 2013 a life was lost. While many other lives were lost on the same day as well, I’m going to highlight just one today. One life that wasn’t truly lost, but was taken. The end of free content on the internet sends shivers down many a spine. For all our intelligence, power and connectivity, the most that we could do as individuals when faced with this possibility a few months ago was to share meaningless photographs across social networks and sign baseless petitions on websites that would amount to and achieve absolutely nothing. For many, the end of free content on the internet and censorship was a myth. It was incomprehensible that websites like Wikipedia would no longer exist and that we would have to pay to seek out information online. For many, these events went unnoticed and eventually, were deemed inconsequential.

Not for Aaron Swartz. At the age of 14, he achieved more than what many of us will achieve in our entire lifetime. At that tender age, he co-authored RSS, a family of web feed formats that are used today by the likes of Google to accumulate information from various websites on the internet and present it to you in a simple package or stream, like on their news page. While still in school, Swartz created an online encyclopedia that allowed people to add and edit information in it, long before Jimmy Wales came up with Wikipedia. Swartz was instrumental in the fight against SOPA last year and believed in the concept of free information for everyone.

Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz – The “Free Information” Activist

The world isn’t kind to activists. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in the streets or behind a computer screen. They’re either neglected by those very people for whom they seek justice and a better world, or they are shunned and thrown behind bars by those that they oppose. JSTOR, a digital library that stores issues of academic papers, scientific journals and books, claimed that Aaron Swartz had hacked into their network, downloaded close to five million files with the intent of freely distributing them on the internet. Swartz wanted information to be free, and JSTOR was a trove of scientific information that was very useful for students worldwide. He was looking to make research material and scientific information easier for everyone to access, for free.

On reclaiming the articles from Aaron Swartz, JSTOR decided not to press charges. However, in July 2011 U.S Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz charged Swartz with computer fraud in addition to a number of other charges that racked up a total of 35 years of jailtime in addition to a million dollars in fines. In spite of JSTOR not pressing charges, the U.S Attorney decided to go ahead with the trial. If found guility, Aaron Swartz would spend pretty much his entire life in jail. And all of this not for crimes against humanity or for terrorism, but for trying to release academic information for free online.

Aaron Swartz faced decades in prison, simply for attempting to make the internet better. At the age of 26, on January 11 2013, Aaron Swartz took his own life.

They say that suicide is an act of cowardice, but in the case of Aaron Swartz, it is most definitely not so. The human brain is wired to fight for survival, it is our basic instinct to live. Many of us cannot even fathom the hopelessness that Swartz must have felt after being told about the potential sentence he faced. A 26 year old faced with 35 years in prison, for a “crime” as trivial as this is more than just ridiculous, and to be the one to carry out that sentence after striving your entire life for something as essential as the freedom of information and then being sentenced to life in prison for it, is daunting to say the very least.

The system is broken. It’s depressing how murderers, rapists and terrorists get away without facing any jail-time due to minor technicalities. Yet, in the eyes of the legal system, individuals like Aaron Swartz are Public Enemy #1.

The death of Aaron Swartz was not suicide, and it is not murder. It is something much greater. The death of Aaron Swartz is our failure as a species.

Rest in Peace Aaron, God knows you deserve it.

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10 comments

  1. neonsensical · January 14, 2013

    I’m dumbfounded. I’ll be honest, I knew nothing about this until I read this blogpost and right about now I’m filled with so much rage and hopelessness that I want to scream till I can’t anymore. This is just ridiculous. There are five barbarians out here who are still being ‘presented in court’ while people are STILL trying to figure out what to do with the sixth ‘juvenile’. And then there’s Aaron Swartz. Computer fraud? Really? That’s what is ailing the society now is it?

    I rest my case.

  2. Sheena · January 15, 2013

    The system is indeed broken. It’s always those who want improvement that get punished, ever since civilization began. Improvement of any form is a threat to the people currently in power, and they’d do anything to squash it. Aaron, rest in peace for this world isn’t fit to have the likes of you.
    Another great post, Avtar.

  3. Karan Nadkarni · January 15, 2013

    Nicely articulated Avtar… An informative blog post… Far away from randomness like your other awesomely phased ones… Just wish, more people read this and understand what a contribution Swartz has left us, the internet society with… RIP Aaron Swartz..

  4. Avtar · January 15, 2013

    Neha, at first I couldn’t really believe the entire thing. And once he took his life, for once I wasn’t filled with rage. I was just filled with absolute and utter emptiness and hopelessness. I was simply lost, this is truly what we’ve been reduced to as a society.

    Sheena, you’re right. Change frightens people, improvement makes them feel redundant, they’ll do anything they can to ensure conventional methods in certain places are still used. Many are talking about a show of excessive force from the U.S Attorney, and I’m with them. There’s a petition going around on the White House website for her removal. And thanks. 🙂

    Karan, thanks man. While I wouldn’t attribute the rest to sheer randomness, I appreciate your sentiment, lol. His contribution should most definitely be remembered by everyone and it will, but it’s sad that in most circles, and in the vast majority of the population, his name might just remain an unheard one.

  5. Anita Ram Singh · January 16, 2013

    Avtar I am truly shocked as I had no idea about this. If this is the way our so called civilized world reacts then I don’t want to be civilized anymore. Very well articulated. I hope everyone reads this.

  6. Arundhati Bhan · January 21, 2013

    Same. I had no idea about this, such a personality.
    This needs to be known by many. Along with telling people how injustice prevails in the most shallow form.

  7. Avtar · January 27, 2013

    Mum, thanks! I hope the same.
    Arundhati, no one’s going to be bother. It’s been ten days now and already people are beginning to forget him I feel. For more people to find, information must be shared and no one is going to bother spreading the word about this because their Facebook walls are far too precious to have something like this on them. I’ll have to convert this into a meme-based thing for it to be shared.

  8. Etisha · January 27, 2013

    Very well written Avtar. Like most of the others I had no clue about this matter until I read your post. It saddens me to know that someone as young and as bright as Aaron was subjected to such injustice. His suicide is no act of cowardice. His death should make everybody feel miserable as human beings. And also feel miserable about our useless law that favors the criminals and looks to give jail time to the innocent.
    RIP Aaron Swartz.

  9. Natasha · January 29, 2013

    Had almost overlooked this when you had sent it, came back to me when Etisha wrote about it on facebook. It is shameful to be part of this kind of a society and living with all the injustice. It’s an agony for the world to have lost this gem. Someone as remarkable as Aaron, who thought so nobly deserves to “live” with us. Forever.

  10. lense · March 30, 2013

    None of you ever thought or took inspiration from his contribution until he died. The world is unjust. Irrationality had taken and ruined more lives than you can ever think. Its a connate flaw in human beings to choose to act irrationally. You can go and scream about it in your lectures and rants and on your blogposts, but the truth is that you too are as irrational as the ones you woe to. Because no, you want the change but you dont want to force the change, and you desire fame and gratification through all means you get hold of. Youtube, facebook, wordpress, blogger and what not, remember the people who run all these things for you are the ones who take away your rights and force the society norm upon you. Your show of vociferation can never change a thing about this society. Please dont feel offended, its just that i believe in change guided by force. I’ve read much about how sick the underbelly is. And i have concluded that its futile to be sane now. Its time to take arms against the elite class, and take down their heinous capitalism bullshit.

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