Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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Aaron Swartz and the historical context of hacking

Like many, I’ve been reading everything I can find since I heard that Aaron Swartz had committed suicide. He’s not someone I knew, but certainly someone I paid attention to and read pretty frequently. He also had one of the best definitions of blogging I read:

So that’s what this blog is. I write here about thoughts I have, things I’m working on, stuff I’ve read, experiences I’ve had, and so on. Whenever a thought crystalizes in my head, I type it up and post it here. I don’t read over it, I don’t show it to anyone, and I don’t edit it — I just post it. … I don’t consider this writing, I consider this thinking.

Anyway, of all this stuff I’ve been reading about the case, his impact on the world and everything else, I found this description of where he, and more broadly cultural activist hackers, fit into the historical context very interesting:

I knew Swartz, although not well. And while he was special on account of his programming abilities, in another way he was not special at all: he was just another young man compelled to act rashly when he felt strongly, regardless of the rules. In another time, a man with Swartz’s dark drive would have headed to the frontier. Perhaps he would have ventured out into the wilderness, like T. E. Lawrence or John Muir, or to the top of something death-defying, like Reinhold Messner or Philippe Petit. Swartz possessed a self-destructive drive toward actions that felt right to him, but that were also defiant and, potentially, law-breaking. Like Henry David Thoreau, he chased his own dreams, and he was willing to disobey laws he considered unjust.

January 16, 2013 // This post is about: , , ,


  • Dan Thornton says:

    That’s not counting the origins of the word Hacking from the MIT model railway club, some of whom practiced lock picking and breaking into admin offices, and morphed into computer programmers who then gave rise to most of what we have today with regards to computing and IT.

    Although most wouldn’t been cultural hackers, I’d probably put Richard Stallman somewhat into that category – the free software/open source contribution to culture has been pretty sizeable.

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