Heroism Unmasked: One Year and Seven Days Ago — What Can Aaron Swartz Teach Us.

A special shoutout to Daniel: Thanks for shedding light on Aaron Swartz, for without it I would have totally missed out on such an inspirational figure :3

A look at one of the many unsung heroes and what has Swartz taught us.

Computer programmer, hacker, writer and activist Aaron Swartz was found dead in his Crown Heights apartment on 11 January, 2013. He was faced with federal hacking and fraud charges for downloading millions of academic articles using MIT’s network (in which, after his suicide resulted in Anonymous’ Operation Last Resort). While he was still alive, he debated with his then-girlfriend Quinn Norton whether the Internet would mourn him if he had died.

Looks like he was wrong.

Thousands of Netizens gathered to mourn his death after his suicide, and Swartz even had a memorial website set up for him by his parents.

In the following we will examine Swartz’s believes and how other people thought of him, and how that in return can teaches us as a Graphic Designer, and all in all, as a human being.


“We won this fight because everyone made themselves the hero of their own story. Everyone took it as their job to save this crucial freedom.” — Aaron Swartz.

In the victory of the netizen’s fight against SOPA (and PIPA), Swartz (and the netizens) has taught us to fight for what we believe in. Really push an idea forward if you have a good rationale behind it and believe that it will work out (at the same time make sure your work doesn’t gets you in trouble, say, a three-month suspension without pay).

Age does not matter. Passion and interest does.

At the young age of 13, Swartz was co-authoring a version of RSS, a system that allows streaming of news from across the Internet onto a single reader. This tell us graphic designers to harness everything around us with our passion and interest and turn them into inspirations (i.e. don’t sit on a chair and wait for inspiration to drop on you like an apple).

If you are good at something, make the best out of it.

In his later teens Swartz helped in building and selling a news message board called Reddit, which eventually grew into one of the Internet’s most popular site. The lesson here is simple: Never stop making good works (despite some of them might be shitty, “it’s your taste that matters,” says Ira Glass).

Make things that impacts human life.

In just 17 years of his life, Swartz had made a legacy out of his life — by creating the coding backbone of Creative Commons License that allow artists and writers to claim or waive certain rights to control their works or share them online (Yang, 2013). Well but of course we graphic designers cannot code (not to say all of us can’t learn coding either) like Swartz, but we have the responsibility to create works that are influential, communicative, and the best of all if possible, make an impact (be it big or small).

Share things.

Let’s be a little more objective here, we’re talking about the sharing of ideas and inspirations, based on a claim by Albert Einstein — “Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.” There is no harm in bouncing off ideas from our peers and let and things go wild. Do a little mix and match of ideas and you will end up with even more ideas (and happier designers with less stress). Swartz’s Creative Commons License later gave birth to ‘copyleft movement’ community that devotes themselves to building an economy of culture based on sharing.

“I think Aaron was trying to make the world work – he was trying to fix it.”
—World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee.

In Swartz’s fight for network neutrality, copyright reform and information freedom, he had once again teach us graphic designers to fix and face our problem(s) in the course of our work/life rather than just running away from it. Because an unresolved problem will always result in more problems in the future. Take miscommunication for an example, it occurred to me once when we were told that a project submission was two weeks later, only to have known after two weeks of endless working and revisions, that the actual deadline is “postponed” and re-submission is allowed. After that, critique was given by another lecturer and almost all of us had to do another revision. The problem here is, we could have gotten our critique earlier during the first 2 months of our project, and we should have been informed that there are certain restrictions and criteria that our work must fit into. But we didn’t. In the end, the lecturer’s work was delayed and we had to rush like mad cows (literally) to complete it (not to mention that our wallets are going to be a goner again. note: the project is heavy print-related).

“…he was just doing what he thought was right to produce a world that was better.”
—Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig

Advocate of freedom of information, co-founder of Demand Progress, fighting for rights online (refer to SOPA) and succeeded – Swartz was just doing what he believes that would create a better place. And we, as graphic designers, too, should produce works with rationale according to what we think is right, and hopefully by the end of the creative process produce something that is truly communicative and impactful to the community that we live in (and even better, to reach out to other communities around the world).

And to end this:

“Aaron was steadfast in his dedication to building a better and open world, he is among the best spirits of the Internet generation. I am crushed by his loss, but will continue to be enlightened by his work and dedication.”—  Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle.

Let us all remember the great things Aaron had done to the Internet community, and be inspired by him to do even greater things, be it in our profession, our life, or on the Internet.


Watercutter, A (2014). One Year Later, Web Legends Honor Aaron Swartz. Wired Magazine. [Online] Available at: <http://www.wired.com/underwire/2014/01/aaron-swartz-documentary-clip/&gt; [Accessed on 18th January, 2014]

Poulsen, K (2013). Aaron Swartz, Coder and Activist, Dead at 26. Wired Magazine. [Online] Available at: <http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/01/aaron-swartz/&gt; [Accessed on 18th January, 2014]



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s