The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

Knowledge is power, the saying goes, though if you look at how the world actually works, ignorant rich people have a lot more power than knowledgeable poor ones. A more precise formulation might be that marketable knowledge is power, which is why your friend in the financial services industry rolls his eyes whenever you hold forth on the subject of French medieval poetry. Two documentaries opening this week, Ivory Tower and The Internet’s Own Boy, touch on the subject of monetizing knowledge, and you’re liable to find each infuriating in its own way if you see the U.S. as a country rapidly devolving into a two-tiered society. The Internet’s Own Boy tells the sad story of Aaron Swartz, a Highland Park native who was recognized as a computer prodigy in his early teens and by his early 20s had devoted himself to the cause of democratizing knowledge through the Internet. He became a millionaire at age 19 when Reddit, the social information site he helped create, was bought by Conde Nast Publications; seven years later, in January 2013, he hanged himself when it became clear that he faced serious prison time for having connected his hard drive to an unsupervised networking switch at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and downloaded hundreds of academic journal articles from the digital archive JSTOR, to be uploaded later to a file-sharing site. MIT and JSTOR declined to press charges, but the U.S. attorney’s office went after Swartz, hoping to make an example of an Internet rock star who’d taken a highly combative stance toward both public and private institutions that hoarded information. Continue reading >>