Why I made mosaic of Aaron Swartz?
I am Indian by nationality. We are country of more than billion people. And most of us are between the age group of 15–35. That makes us youngest nation in the world. And it reflects on our streets, in our cinema, in our markets, television, and in our tightly knit bubble of internet.
Yes we are safeguarded by our parents, our culture, our teachers, our relatives, our friends, relatives of friends, friends of relatives and of course our government. Most of the things are taboo here. We had to change tv channels every time a condom ad used to surface. For many households it still is an unspoken rule. We can not talk about sex with our parents, or even our siblings for that matter. And our old generation think that marital rape is a fad. We openly speak about corruption only if we are not surrounded by politicians and beaurocrates. And very recently our guardian angel government tried to shun the access of more than 800 porn websites. (They ultimately came up with circular carrying the list of 800+ urls, giving us more sites to explore)
But all these things are changing slowly. Youtube channels like AIB and TVF have changed our perspectives to some extent. But one thing we have not been fully aware about is politics around the foundations of the world wide web.
In 2015, facebook tried to safeguard a part of internet in the name of free basics. We as a nation digitally summoned the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) through petitions and emails to scrap these plans by big telecom companies of India. And eventually free basics was ruled out. We won. But just to forgot that government have rights and capabilities to shun your access to net. And more importantly it want you to see the things they want show. That was outrageous. But who cares. We are blinded by the illumination brought by television and Internet so much that we didn’t even notice that Snowden was not released in India. We are back on our social media sharing and liking and commenting on Indian symbolic version of cute cats (and believe me it is not at all cute)
This is where I got angry. I tried to explain to my circles about free speech, open access, activism, hactivism, safeguards, watchdogs, hacking cultures and what not. Showing and telling about more and more documentaries. But everything went bouncer.(that is what we say when people don’t understand what the fuck are you talking about.) It’s almost like climate change is real, but let’s talk about it after this new episode of GoT. And that time never comes because we have ton of fun to enjoy. I even felt like what Noam Chomsky would have felt in his early days for a while. (Then I realised, oh no I am not an intellectual.)
This is when my artist friend from National School of Design (NID) Sagar Sutar said “we are losing interaction in digital age.” And if I want people to pay attention, “Art is an answer.” It was very straightforward and simple when he said that. It made me think about alternate solutions. Those words — Art is an answer, kept ringing too many bells and at that time I decided to make a mosaic, mosaic of as Peter Eckersley of Electronic Frontier Foundation described him “one of the most creative minds of our generation”, Internet’s own Boy — Aaron Hillel Swartz (Aaron Swartz).
Even though I had made my mind and I was quite sure about it. I was little bit sceptical too. Because Aaron, in spite of his mammoth work against SOPA and PIPA and his contributions to tech world and internet, is little known in India. But I started working on it anyway. One of the prominent anthropologist in technical field and who introduced Anons to the world through her books and articles, Gabriella Coleman always admired Aaron. So when I was halfway through the artwork, I tweeted it to her.
She replied same day saying send the final version this way when done!
Now it was huge for me. That single line became a source of Inspiration for me. I completed the mosaic next day. Now in this whole process, my friends were watching me. Asking me countless questions about the guy in the picture. Many of them googled about Aaron, read about his work, visited profiles of the people associated with him. For me purpose was partially served.
I put the final face version on twitter.
Luckily Gabriella Coleman retweeted about it and the retweets started flooding in. But best part is, I got to know about many people worldwide loving Aaron Swartz , many of them doing substantial work themselves. One of the important people I found out about is @vidushimarda and her organisation @cis_india. I came to know about documentary “Free Speech - Fear Free” (how the hell I missed it). Got a retweet by @AaronSwartzDay. And conversations have already started in my circles. I think Aaron really have made this world more connected for me.
Now I am on a mission. To spread open access manifesto to my circles. Work towards a better, more open, accessible web for my peers. Educate my colleagues, family, friends, relatives, friends of relatives, relatives of friends and in turn my government about importance of open access. And I feel more confident about it now because now my source of Inspiration sit next to me.