where trouble was needed

January 20, 2013

To fix the shocking brokenness …

Filed under: Memories — Aravinda @ 5:41 am
Aaron Swartz wrote this at age 20,  after reading Noam Chomsky at age 18
“It’s taken me two years to write about this experience, not without reason. One terrifying side effect of learning the world isn’t the way you think is that it leaves you all alone. And when you try to describe your new worldview to people, it either comes out sounding unsurprising (“yeah, sure, everyone knows the media’s got problems”) or like pure lunacy and people slowly back away.
Ever since then, I’ve realized that I need to spend my life working to fix the shocking brokenness I’d discovered.”
 * * *

In the years I lived and worked in Boston I spent many evenings and weekends on the MIT campus, in the library, attending events or strolling the infinite corridor. In spite of its numbered buildings or maybe even because of them, the place had a homely feeling and I always felt welcome there. In fact, one of my pet stories to tell used to be how I was able to log in to athena using a login passed along to me by a homeless person. All I did was look things up in the library, thereby impressing my co-workers the next day with my fast turnaround on research questions. I was young, it was the 90s. Incidentally I worked at BBN, one of the internet pioneers, where we also had numbered buildings, just like MIT.

(fya, I logged in as root with password mrroot. I assume this no longer works, though I have not tried it in many years. Sorry if I am revealing any secret here.)

I am now far from Boston and though I thought I was aware of issues like this, I had not heard of Aaron Swartz till now and I am more than shocked by the role MIT has played. MIT the place where anyone is allowed to audit a course (at least this is what the word on the street was). I can no longer smile when I see news of MIT students playing tetris on a building, I can no longer think of MIT without thinking of Aaron Swartz. Aaron Swartz who read Noam Chomsky at age 18 and dedicated his life to changing the world. If we do not work to address causes like freedom of knowledge through legal means, then we are going to see more idealistic and self-sacrificing people like Aaron Swartz putting the cause ahead of themselves. When we do, I hope that we can recognize their abilities and seek their guidance for the sake of a more just and humane society.

If we can’t we may want to ban Noam Chomsky for 18-year olds and make them wait till they are old enough to sit in cafes and just talk about it.

If I had lost all hope then I guess I would not have bothered to sign the Petition for MIT to apologize for role in Aaron Swartz prosecution.


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