Tag Archives: John Perry Barlow

Discussing Aaron’s Suicide: Q and A at Aaron Swartz Day 2014

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Trevor Timm, John Perry Barlow, Brian Knappenberger, and Lisa Rein, during the Q & A panel, after a special screening of “The Internet’s Own Boy” in the Internet Archive’s Great Room, at Aaron Swartz Day, November 8, 2014.

Audio clip:

Link to full Aaron Swartz Day 2014 Video.
The transcript below has been edited slightly for readability.

Lisa: Brian, when you were making this movie, and you had lots and lots of footage, how did you go about deciding which story you were actually gonna tell? One of the things that people who are not familiar with the story sometimes say to me, when they see your film for the first time, is that they are curious about the way that you handled the suicide at the end.

For me, it made sense, because, one thing that I think a lot of us could agree on, when we talked about it, after he died, was that it *didn’t* really make sense. He had had bouts with depression, from time to time, like a lot of people, but it wasn’t really anything that anyone was expecting, or that anyone could go “oh, we knew that was gonna happen,” or, “we were afraid that was going to happen” — that sort of thing.

I liked the way you sort of got that across in the film. How did you decide how you were gonna treat that issue? It was very sad at the end, but you definitely decided not to dwell on it.

Brian: Yeah. I mean, so much was written about Aaron, right after he died. And some of it, at least, had to do with depression or speculating on the role that it might of played in his death. So, I certainly, read everything. I mean, before we even started filming – when I was still in the early stages, I tried to read everybody’s take on it. A lot of people were doing first hand accounts and stuff, but the New Yorker did a piece that was almost exclusively focused on that issue.  And so I decided to take it, and basically just ask the people who were closest to him and try to understand what role it played.

The conclusion I came to is that, Taren, who lived with him during the last years of his life, she doesn’t believe that he suffered from that. Or, that he may have had something like that in his early 20s, but not when she lived with him. His brothers and other people close to him describe a kind of sensitivity, of carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders; the need to want to fix everything, almost. And so I just kind of weighted, based on what I found. I think that’s the short answer.

I think some of that was letting the government off the hook, in some ways. That’s just the conclusion that I came to. That assigning too much to “depression,” was a way of sort of distracting from this two year legal nightmare that would have certainly put anybody in a difficult position.

Lisa: Right. As if it was something where, he could have had a bad day, and done anyway, and not something that he was driven to from the situation. I guess that’s what bothered me too, when people talked about the depression, and they left out the whole part about the relentless, daily persecution by this case on his life.

Brian: Yeah, I mean, people go through worse and don’t take their own life, obviously. So, it was just something that I thought a lot about. I basically proceeded by talking to people who were close to him and trying to understand who he was, and what role that played, and I think I got some pretty candid, and pretty honest answers about that.

John Perry: I don’t have reason to say this, but I’m gonna say it anyway. It occurs to me, even though I know that Aaron Swartz would’ve been a truly extraordinary force in the world, had he lived. I’m not certain that he would’ve been the extraordinary force in the world that he became by dying when he did, and I’m not certain that he didn’t know that. It’s not out of the question in my mind that he made a strategic and very hard decision to allow himself to be a martyr to this cause at this particular point.

Lisa: I thought of that too, except that one would say that making a pragmatic decision about the timing of taking your life isn’t necessarily a sane decision to make.

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John Perry Barlow Recalls A 12 year-old Aaron Swartz

EFF and Freedom of the Press co-founder John Perry Barlow will be appearing with Freedom of the Press co-founder and executive director Trevor Timm, and Brian Knappenberger, Director of “The Internet’s Own Boy,” for a Q & A with the audience at tonight’s Aaron Swartz Day celebration.

aaron and john

Although you often see John Perry Barlow sitting behind Aaron in the famous photograph by Daniel J. Sieradski, above, the two of them never actually met each other.

From John Perry on November 8th: “Correction! Aaron and I met and met heavily… But primarily on that one day. We were casual friends later but I think he never got over the initial awe enough to relax and really tell me what happened that day. But he did tell his father.”

John Perry walked up to the front of the room at the very beginning of the “open mic” segment at the end of Aaron’s San Francisco memorial, and explained that they had actually met before, sort-of, many years earlier, when  John Perry came to talk to his school one day, whe Aaron was 11 or 12 years old.

When John Perry ran into Aaron’s father, Robert Swartz, after he had accepted Aaron’s Internet Hall of Fame award last year, he asked if he thought he’d had made an impression on Aaron that day?

Robert replied that he most certainly had.

The rest, as they say, is history.

John Perry Barlow’s speech during “open mic” portion of the San Francisco Memorial, January 24, 2013:

Aaron Swartz was the embodiment and apotheosis of everything that I’ve stood for for the last 25 years, and it is paradoxical that even though that was true, and even though he was profoundly involved with most of my best friends and greatest heroes, I spent almost all the time that I ever spent with him, one afternoon in, I think, 1996, when he really was a very little kid.

I’d been asked by the headmaster of Northshore Country Day to come and speak to the middle school, and, for some reason, there was this 10 or 11 year old that was in among the middle schoolers. And I spent the afternoon – this was a time when, I don’t think there were that many people who felt the way I did about this stuff. Most of them are in this room now. And I was promoting the idea that we could make a world where anybody anywhere could give his thirst for knowledge and his curiosity everything that it wanted to know. And *anybody* could know as much as any human being knew about any thing, in the future. He didn’t say much. He was extremely memorable, however. He was much younger. He was all eyes, and mind, and…spiritual radiance, in a way. And I scarcely saw him again.

But years later… Last year, at one point, when I was with a bunch of copyright barons in Paris at the EG8, and they were all talking about how enforcement and education was gonna come out right, and it was gonna be just like the War on some Drugs. And I happened to be on a panel with these guys. I said “you know, you think you’ve won this thing, or you will win this thing. But the truth is that you’ve turned a whole generation into an electronic Hezbollah. And you will be dead when they are alive. And I was thinking of Aaron Swartz and it’s really very difficult for me to see that he is dead, and they are alive. But he is not dead, and they will be.