Who ordered the scrambled brains?

1994 Blog of the Year! (Albania Times)

Aaron Swartz and the Temple of Doom

Aaron Swartz was a prominent hacker who believed passionately in the potential of information access to improve society. In 2002, at 14 years old, he co-authored the RSS communication standard–the same one that powers Google Reader. In 2006, he became a co-founder of the fledgling Reddit when his company merged with it. Yesterday, at 26, he hung himself.

In 2011, he allegedly trespassed MIT’s campus to stash his laptop in a utility closet, which he had allegedly programmed to download millions of academic papers from the extremely expensive JSTOR database. JSTOR ultimately didn’t care. But MIT–that great stalwart of hacker culture–apparently did, and they sadly gave tacit support to his overzealous prosecution. US Attorney Carmen Ortiz fanatically pursued overreaching and severely disproportionate charges, carrying sentences of $4m in fines, and 50 years in jail!

From what I’ve read, he had already been struggling for years with depression. “You feel as if streaks of pain are running through your head, you thrash your body, you search for some escape but find none.” I am too familiar with this. A decade ago, I suffered a long bout of depression. Those streaks of pain inspired the name of this blog. It was intense, oppressive and ever-present. With time and space, I was able to sort through it; I didn’t have corporations or the government breathing down my neck.

If nothing else, I hope this brings greater mainstream awareness to the disconnect between justice and technology. Some people describe today’s information technology landscape as a lawless frontier. Perhaps that’s largely true. But anyone who ventures an act of protest or disobedience in those areas where corporations, governments, or other machinery of “orderly” power structures are located, will suddenly find himself trapped in a legally-hyperactive, Kafkaesque Temple of Doom.

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