The Internet’s Own Boy

Who was Aaron Swartz?  A curious mind, for whom computers were magic and there was always something to solve. The teenager who helped create the code for Lawrence Lessig’s Creative Commons , RSS software and Reddit. A digital activist involved in mobilising the US tech community to oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) a controversial copyright bill, finally derailed by an Internet blackout  on January 18, 2012.

In 2014, The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, funded through crowd-sourcing platform Kickstarter, received a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival.

It marked the first anniversary of his death a year earlier, two years after he had fallen foul of the US authorities for downloading several million articles from the academic database JSTOR. He had been indicted on multiple felony counts; there was talk of up to 35 years in prison.  Aaron Swartz was just 26 years old when he took his own life and until I watched this documentary on YouTube, unknown to me.

I am not alone. Writing in The New Yorker, two months after he died, Larissa MacFarquhar commenting on the response on social media said that: “Very few of the people who posted had known him personally, or even heard his name before his death.”

The Internet’s Own Boy gives us a glimpse of the human story behind the headlines, from the point of view of family, close friends and colleagues and such Internet pioneers as Tim Berners-Lee and Lawrence Lessig. It traces the trajectory of the sweet, clever little boy of early home movie footage to brilliant teenager, engaging with some of the smartest thinkers of the Internet and political activist who believed passionately in Internet freedoms and Open Access, in a time of social media-fuelled political upheaval.  In the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto (2008), he wrote:

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations.”

Though we are not given answers about why Aaron Swartz chose to download the JSTOR documents and what he intended to do with them, it is clear that he did not anticipate the consequences of his actions. He had previously downloaded files from the PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) database and come to the attention of the FBI but was not charged. And anyway, this kind of cyber activity was apparently understood as being part of the culture of MIT. But he was arrested and though he returned the files to JSTOR, who dropped any charges, he faced federal prosecution. This has been widely criticised as ‘overzealous’ and the reaction of an administration keen to exert more control in Cyberspace and wanting ‘to make an example’ of someone. Nobody from the other side of the argument was prepared to comment for the film.


The debate about copyright continues. Earlier this year Tim-Berners-Lee and other Internet experts signed a letter in opposition to EU Copyright Directive Article 13 of which they believe, could transform the Internet from an open platform into a surveillance tool. An amended version goes before the European Parliament in January 2019.

Aaron Swartz thought about how in the Internet age where everyone can have a channel, who has control over what gets heard? Perhaps the most powerful message from The Internet’s Own Boy is that we all need to think a lot more about that too.

Project Title 1 Mind Mapping

Mind Mapping

This is project 1

“Mind mapping Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua mind mapping.

Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu mind mapping fugiat nulla pariatur.

Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est mind mapping laborum.”

Nano Nagle Place – An Impression

Nano Nagle Place a community space containing a heritage centre, gardens, café and gift shop opened just over a year ago in Douglas Street, a few minutes’ walk from Cork’s city centre.

When we visited last week, I had some idea of what to expect but little sense of how it would feel.  It is a peaceful spot, seemingly far removed from the city just outside its walls and the warm sunshine of an autumn day invited exploration of the gardens. Much of the original layout remains, existing in harmony with new planting and water features, which add to the sense of calm. It is not difficult to see how this lends itself to being a space for spirituality and wellbeing – or just a nice cup of coffee – and to imagine generations of women walking here in quiet contemplation.

Some of them are buried in the small graveyard here, among them, Nano Nagle in 1784. Born into a wealthy Catholic family, she devoted her life to helping the poor of Cork and founded the Presentation Sisters. Her achievement in opening seven schools across the city is all the more remarkable when you consider that is was done in secret during Penal times. The Heritage Experience invites you to discover more about this story and life in 18th century Cork, a city of merchant princes and appalling poverty.

Physically the exhibition echoes the journeys Nano Nagle would have made through Cork’s dark alleys, before opening out into a wider space which shows the history and work of the Presentation Sisters and the Goldie Chapel. Old maps of Cork and audio set the scene; touch screens offer the opportunity to learn more. There are places to pause and sit, stools and colouring materials for children. Placed in front of the pews in the chapel, tall boxes house screens, where you can quiz yourself on what you have just seen.

In a side room, a small screen shows a BBC documentary made in 1960s about a young woman’s last days at home before joining the convent. I was struck by the contrasts in the reactions of her family to that decision: Her father’s pride that his daughter was following in a family tradition of religious life; her mother’s understandable sadness at the prospect of her daughter leaving home, her brother’s surprise at the choice she had made. It showed an Ireland familiar and not long distant but far away now.

What I liked most is that Nano Nagle Place is more than a heritage centre telling the story of a remarkable woman of faith who sought to empower others through learning. But that that story has been respectively preserved and imaginatively told in a space, once in decline which has been rejuvenated. It is an open and welcoming community space and most of all, a centre for learning where the story continues to be written.