Review: The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (2014)

Reviewed by Traci Zimmerman, Academic Unit Head and Professor, James Madison University

For scholars and educators, having access to knowledge and being able to share ideas is the bedrock upon which our entire educational and democratic enterprise depends. For Aaron Swartz, information access and dissemination was seen as a fundamental human right, a right certainly worth fighting for, and a fight that would ultimately lead to his tragic suicide at the age of 26. Brian Knappenberger’s film deftly tells the story of Aaron’s life as a way not only to illustrate and advance the cause for which he lived but also to catalyze questions and inspire change as we understand and examine the circumstances of his death. Through home movies, interviews with Aaron’s loved ones and mentors, and news clips of his 2011 arrest (and questionable federal case) for wire and computer fraud, Knappenberger is able to capture and contextualize Aaron’s influence and to create a kind of visual manifesto demanding justice for Aaron as a way of demanding justice for us all. This film reminds us of Aaron’s admonition: that it is not enough to live in the world as it is, to accept the inevitable and refuse to seek the possible. More than that, it is a powerful testament to what one person can and did do to make the world a better place.