Weekly Edition #019

The boy who could change the world.

Illustration by Michael Gillette

“I think deeply about things and want others to do likewise. I work for ideas and learn from people. I don’t like excluding people. I’m a perfectionist, but I won’t let that get in the way of publication. Except for education and entertainment, I’m not going to waste my time on things that won’t have an impact. I try to be friends with everyone, but I hate it when you don’t take me seriously. I don’t hold grudges, it’s not productive, but I learn from my experience. I want to make the world a better place.”
― Aaron Swartz


Aaron Swartz hanged himself in his apartment in Brooklyn on January 11th, 2013. He was twenty-six, but he had been well known as a computer programmer for many years. At the age of fourteen, he helped to develop the RSS software that enables the syndication of information over the Internet. At fifteen, he e-mailed one of the leading theorists of Internet law, Lawrence Lessig, and helped to write the code for Lessig’s Creative Commons, which, by writing alternatives to standard copyright licenses, allows people to share their work more freely. At nineteen, he was a developer of Reddit, one of the world’s most widely used social-networking news sites.

Swartz's work also focused on civic awareness and activism. He helped launch the Progressive Change Campaign Committee in 2009 to learn more about effective online activism. In 2010, he became a research fellow at Harvard University's Safra Research Lab on Institutional Corruption, directed by Lawrence Lessig. He founded the online group Demand Progress, known for its campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act.

In 2011, Swartz was arrested by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) police on state breaking-and-entering charges, after connecting a computer to the MIT network in an unmarked and unlocked closet and setting it to download academic journal articles systematically from JSTOR using a guest user account issued to him by MIT. Federal prosecutors later charged him with two counts of wire fraud and eleven violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, carrying a cumulative maximum penalty of $1 million in fines, 35 years in prison, asset forfeiture, restitution, and supervised release.

Swartz declined a plea bargain under which he would have served six months in federal prison. Two days after the prosecution rejected a counter-offer by Swartz, he was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment, where he had hanged himself.


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Reading

The boy who could change the world - the writings of Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz | With an Introduction by Lawrence Lessig

The ultimate guide to UX Research

Maze Design

An introduction to multi-platform design systems

Danny Banks | dbanksdesign

Generation work-from-home may never recover

Amanda Mull | The Atlantic

How to think better

Anne-Laure Le Cunff | Ness Labs

How the police use AI to track and identify you

Bryan McMahon | The Gradient

What a second Bauhaus Movement means for Europe

Kriston Capps and Laura Millan Lombrana | Bloomberg CityLab

Elon Musk: ‘A.I. doesn’t need to hate us to destroy us’

Hosted by Kara Swisher | The New York Times

Design for culture & sustainability

Lollypop Design Blog

Talks

How we need to remake the internet | Jaron Lanier

In the early days of digital culture, Jaron Lanier helped craft a vision for the internet as public commons where humanity could share its knowledge -- but even then, this vision was haunted by the dark side of how it could turn out: with personal devices that control our lives, monitor our data and feed us stimuli. (Sound familiar?)

Why specializing early doesn't always mean career success | David Epstein

A head start doesn't always ... well, help you get ahead. With examples from sports, technology and economics, journalist David Epstein shares how specializing in a particular skill too early in life may undermine your long-term development -- and explains the benefits of a "sampling period" where you try new things and focus on building a range of skills.


What happened

Photo: Microsoft
  • Microsoft’s underwater server experiment resurfaces after two years.

    • After two years at a depth of 35 meters, the underwater data centers have proven to be eight times more reliable than the infrastructure on land.

    • Why put servers underwater? The cooling of the units, one of the most expensive management items such as energy used, was automatically guaranteed by the temperature of the water on the seabed, without the need to use other means. Microsoft is committed, along with other tech bigwigs, to zero carbon emissions by 2030.

  • Epic Games, Spotify, and Tile form 'Coalition for App Fairness' to 'Fight Back' Against Apple

    • The organization describes itself as "an independent nonprofit organization founded by industry-leading companies to advocate for freedom of choice and fair competition across the app ecosystem." The coalition is based in Washington D.C. and Brussels, and aims to lead legal and regulatory changes with regards to what it says are three key issues; "anti-competitive policies," "30 percent app tax," and "no consumer freedom."

  • Google to pay out $1B to publishers to license content for new Google News Showcase.

    • Today the company unveiled its latest effort to claw back more credibility in the news publishing world, launching the Google News Showcase. Sundar Pichai,  CEO of the search giant, said in a blog post that it would collectively pay some $1 billion to news publishers in licensing fees “to create and curate high-quality content” for new story panels that will appear on Google News.

  • Wikipedia is getting a new look for the first time in 10 years. Here’s why.


So what happens now?

A man named John Atkinson wrote a blog post titled “Why Am I So Upset About Aaron Swartz’s Suicide?” in which he asked himself why the death of someone he didn’t know, and had never heard of until his arrest, had affected him so profoundly, when most tragedies in the news—wars, natural disasters, school shootings—left him cold.

Aaron Swartz is what I wish I was,” he wrote. “I am a bright technologist, but I’ve never built anything of note. I have strong opinions about how to improve this world, but I’ve never acted to bring them to pass. I have thoughts every day that I would share with the world, but I allow my fears to convince me to keep them to myself. If I were able to stop being afraid of what the world would think of me, I could see myself making every decision that Aaron made that ultimately led to his untimely death. This upsets me immensely. I am upset that we have a justice system that would persecute me the way it did Aaron. I am upset that I have spent 27 years of my life having made no discernible difference to the world around me.

Hoping that the untimely and unfortunate death of Aaron may serve as a wake-up call for everyone anywhere in the world that these digital freedoms and rights which we take so much for granted are in fact not but are hard-won rights which must continuously be defended. Open access is an even more important issue because it lies at the core of democratic governments that uphold the rule of law, which are transparent and can be held accountable.

— That’s it for this edition. See you next week.


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