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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

Documentary Review #2: The Internet’s Own Boy

February 3, 2015
Columnist Sarah Harris reviews ‘The Internet’s Own Boy”, documenting the life of Aaron Swartz, for the second instalment of her political documentary series. WHAT: THE INTERNET’S OWN BOY: THE STORY OF AARON SWARTZ THE PREMISE: A DOCUMENTARY FOLLOWING THE LIFE OF REDDIT CO-CREATOR AND HACKTIVIST AARON SWARTZ THROUGH HIS LIFE IN COMPUTER PROGRAMMING. THIS INCLUDES HIS ATTEMPTS TO SHARE…

Columnist Sarah Harris reviews ‘The Internet’s Own Boy”, documenting the life of Aaron Swartz, for the second instalment of her political documentary series.

WHAT: THE INTERNET’S OWN BOY: THE STORY OF AARON SWARTZ

THE PREMISE: A DOCUMENTARY FOLLOWING THE LIFE OF REDDIT CO-CREATOR AND HACKTIVIST AARON SWARTZ THROUGH HIS LIFE IN COMPUTER PROGRAMMING. THIS INCLUDES HIS ATTEMPTS TO SHARE POLITICAL KNOWLEDGE HE FELT SHOULD NOT BE CONFIDENTIAL WITH HIS UNSUAL GIFT FOR HACKING, AS WELL AS THE HIGH-PROFILE CASE WITH THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT THAT FOLLOWS.

DIRECTED BY: BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER (WE ARE LEGION)

PRODUCED BY: ZACH BRAFF (SCRUBS, GARDEN STATE)

Aaron-Swartz-internet-act-011
Aaron Swartz before his trial.
 

Growing up, I slowly had this process of realising that all the things around me that people told me were just the natural way things were, the way things always would be, they weren’t natural at all – they were things that could be changed, and they were things that, more importantly, were wrong, and should be changed. Once I realised that, there was no going back. – Aaron Swartz.

In a way, watching The Internet’s Own Boy was terrifying. You see, Swartz’s story is revealing of changes to come in our modern society from every relevant stance imaginable. The scientific, political and historical undertones are all heavily present. It was quite frankly disturbing. While watching his story you realise how relatable and representative he was to not only our generation but perhaps, our society as a whole. He was computer-smart, overtly liberal and most importantly, politically feisty. What was and is still most alarming, is that it is clear a mass of our society is just not being listened to – yet.

The Internet’s Own Boy is a documentary that not only captures the generational gap caused by new advances in technology over the past decade, it is one that exposes the political frictions triggered by these changes. But what makes Knappenberger’s work a ten is that he is not afraid to encourage his viewers to join in philosophising over Swartz’s own unconventional political beliefs. Throughout The Internet’s Own Boy we are shown Swartz spending his adult life trying to change immoralities he finds within the American legal system: he heavily protests SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), and co-founds two political advocacy groups (Demand Progress and The Progressive Change Campaign Committee) and last, but by no means least, hacks the American government.

This was when the American government completely demonised him in a high-profile case, apparently to make him an ‘’example’’ to other hacktivists.

Although The Internet’s Own Boy acts as a homage to Swartz, covering his life in chronological order, Knappenberger’s focus lands on Swartz’s forward-thinking political stances later in the documentary. What is appealing about this is that, as viewers, we get Swartz’s full story, yet the documentary also concentrates on his hard work in the political field. In the end, The Internet’s Own Boy acts as both the perfect way to remember Aaron’s Swartz’s profound amount of political activism and as a homage to his incredible, and short, life.

Watching The Internet’s Own Boy left me asking many, many questions. Was Swartz extraordinarily silly or just plain extraordinary? Maybe he was extraordinarily right? Maybe the government wants us to think we all need privacy online because the government needs privacy to hide from the general public? As his girlfriend at the time, Quinn Norton, stated to the jury during Swartz’s case: “you are on the wrong side of history.”

 

Images: Creative Commons