The Internet’s Own Boy

The Internet’s Own Boy is a documentary that narrates the life-story of Aaron Swartz, a child-prodigy, programmer and activist who got in trouble with the law for “stealing” articles from JSTOR and storing them in his personal computer, because he believed in equal access of information. He fought for social justice and information equality, but after a two-year legal battle with the government (regarding the JSTOR articles), he took his own life at the age of 26, due to the pressures he was facing.

The Internet’s Own Boy made me question the meaning of “free world.” In a country built on the discourse of “freedom,” why is it that only a small percentage control and benefit from information? While we’re told our whole lives that we live in a “free” society, the film made me question whether that only applies to those with social/cultural/economic capital. Aaron Swartz was aware of the hierarchy created by those in the elite (which included the government, the big corporations who have the power to control the information, and the select few who have access to higher education) and was an activist that fought for the free access to information. Even though he resorted to illegal means of doing it, his goal was to create equality as he also had political aspirations. An important statement made by Aaron Swartz that truly speaks to this states: “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.” What is the point of research and scholarly and philosophical information if those who benefit are the select few (those with power and capital)?

Furthermore, this movie has made me realize that we are not really free when it comes to educational opportunity and free access to information and it is only the powerful few who are able to do this. Digital libraries, (commercial academic publishers like JSTOR) sell subscriptions to libraries, (like college libraries), who in turn pay millions of dollars to access these journals and databases. This creates a social/monetary hierarchy in who has access to scholarly information; if you can afford to pay for a college education, you will most likely have access, but if you cannot then you will be left without this access, which I believe should be a right.

While we are told that we are born as free individuals, there are some limits to this idea in regards to access to information. Much of the information flow is controlled by the government, copyright industry, etc. Similarly, Sergio Amadeu da Silvaeira states in Conectas: “The stiffening of intellectual property legislation and the shadowy activities of the copyright industry are an attempt to gain control of the sources of creation and knowledge.” Even certain government documents, court cases and law documents have to purchased, which would put those with less monetary means at a disadvantage. This documentary provided some context in where we stand regarding free access to information, and how, in my opinion, it further creates a gap between the elites, and non-elites.

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