‘The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz’ does effectively compute in triumph and tragedy

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

Starring: Aaron Swartz, Tim Berners-Lee, Taren Stinebrickner-Kaufmann, Corey Doctorow, Ron Wyden, Cindy Cohn
Directed by: Brian Knappenberger
Written by: Brian Knappenberger
USA, 2014

Sometimes there is a heavy price to pay for being a vocalized genius. In the case of the late computer programming prodigy and internet innovator in Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz the brilliance and the burden of a young man’s crusade for basic justice in computer-sharing information and technology reached a tragic ending. However, the triumph in Swartz’s shortened twenty-six years of existence is celebrated and remembered in the aftermath of this gifted online political activist whose shocking suicide quieted a vibrant voice in the cause for the power of freely attaining knowledge no matter how sensitive its revelation may be at large.

In writer-director Brian Knappenberger’s absorbing and conscious-minded documentary The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz we examine the moving motivations of an actively eager and precocious mastermind showing a giddy thirst for learning when he was barely able to sit up in his high chair until his talents and tenacity for techno-political justice and liberation in adulthood rendered him a modern-day David to the federal government’s protective Goliath. As a result of Aaron Swartz’s persistence for gaining secretive and restrictive internet-based information for purposes of education, human-based curiosity and the freedom to enjoy the pursuit of hidden knowledge he was brought up on multiple federal charges that made him a marked man in the eyes of Big Brother-esque government beaurocrats. Thoroughly compelling with stirring ingredients ranging from internet piracy to national security paranoia, The Internet’s Own Boy is infused with its unique brand of moral outrage, tongue-tied computerized grand-standing and the festivity and frustration of a brainy mouthpiece willing to challenge the mighty system of technological kiss and tell scrutiny.

InternetsOwnBoy1The tug-of-war between Swartz’s sense of entitlement in gaining access to academic research thus causing a disruption in our civil liberties and the feds that wanted to curb his hunger for classified know-how materials manifested itself into a social justice give-and-take to the point of no return. The defiant Swartz–feeling deprived of the right to put his hands on technological tidbits that he felt should be shared and not withheld–hacked into M.I.T.’s database and downloaded articles as if they were going out of style. Naturally what Swartz did was a resounding no-no for the authorities soon to be followed by a hefty slap in a heavy-handed federal investigation. The end result was not pretty to say the least as the computerized crusader faced debilitating felony charges. The overreaction to Swartz’s so-called dirty deed was considered laughable and insane. However, being maligned by a determined federal court where the maximum penalty carried an upward of fifty years in prison and ridiculously tacked-on fines to boot was too much for Aaron Swartz to handle. Sadly, the desperate computer whiz ended his life in despair and disillusionment.

Outspoken, opinionated and always searching for the rationale behind the hushed goings-on that prevailed Knappenberger photo-main

dutifully showcases Swartz as a fascinating character study of balanced innocence and insolence. Behind this keyboard-pushing rogue was somebody’s son, brother, love interest, business partner and devoted friend that had that impish twinkle in his eyes for progression and the belief that with the progress of techno-inquiries came certain expectations of pride, privilege and passion in the world’s justification to know what is transpiring behind closed doors or at least within the guarded walls of academia.

Aaron Swartz was a bright and quietly bombastic young man that had a future filled with prestige and promise. In theory this well-connected and cerebral assassin could have zipped the lip and made millions without painting any particular target on his back. But then again Aaron Swartz would not have been faithful to his personalized philosophy of fairness and fierceness in knowing and stretching the cyber information and imagination to its gleeful limits.

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz simmers with sadness, cynicism and starkness yet never once turns its back on the celebrated digital-aged declaration in a chosen soul out to right the wrong and mince politics with printout sheets. No doubt that Aaron Swartz had his detractors at the highest level of national oppressors looking to muzzle an expressive and spirited mastermind. In truth he also had the respect, admiration and intrigue of those that recalled this fresh-faced techno tyke (as featured through archived home movies) a bundle of energy and enthusiasm. In the long run, manhood was still a growing pains process for the internet’s own boy wanting to shape the world with his sense of boundless motivation. Swartz fought the good fight until the fight took its toll. Still, even in death Aaron Swartz’s defeat does not compute because his memorable stance will always live on within and beyond the online community’s welfare.

–Frank Ochieng

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