The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

Synopsis: The story of programming prodigy and information activist Aaron Swartz. From Swartz's help in the development of the basic internet protocol RSS to his co-founding of Reddit, his fingerprints are all over the internet. But it was Swartz's groundbreaking work in social justice and political organizing combined with his aggressive approach to information access that ensnared him in a two year legal nightmare. It was a battle that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26. Aaron's story touched a nerve with people far beyond the online communities in which he was a celebrity. This film is a personal story about what we lose when we are tone deaf about technology and its relationship to our civil liberties.
Director(s): Brian Knappenberger
Production: FilmBuff and Participant
  4 wins & 3 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
105 min

[quote on screen]

A cofounder of the social, news and entertainment

website Reddit has been found dead.

He certainly was a prodigy, although

he never thought of himself like that.

He was totally unexcited

about starting businesses and making money.

There's a profound sense of loss tonight

in Highland Park, Aaron Swartz's hometown,

as loved ones say goodbye to

one of the Internet's brightest lights.

Freedom, open access, and computer

activists are mourning his loss.

"An astonishing intellect", if you talk to people who knew him.

He was killed by the government, and

MIT betrayed all of its basic principles.

They wanted to make an example out of him, okay?

Governments have an insatiable

desire to control.

He was potentially facing 35 years

in prison and a one million dollar fine.

Raising questions of prosecutorial zeal,

and I would say even misconduct.

Have you looked into that particular matter

and reached any conclusions?

Growing up, I slowly had this process of

realizing that all the things around me that

people had told me were just the natural way

things were, the way things always would be,

they weren't natural at all,

there were things that could be changed

and there were things that more importantly

were wrong and should change,

and once I realized that,

there was really no going back.

Welcome to story reading time.

The name of the book is "Paddington at the Fair".

Well, he was born in Highland Park

and grew up here.

Aaron came from a family of three

brothers, all extraordinarily bright.

"Oh, the box is tipping over..."

So we were all, you know,

not the best behaved children.

You know, three boys running around

all the time, causing trouble.

"Hey, no, no no!"



But I've come to the realization that Aaron

learned how to learn at a very young age.

"One, two, three, four, five, six,

seven, eight, nine, ten!"

- Knock, knock!

- Who's there?

- Aaron.

- Aaron who?

- Aaron Funnyman.

He knew what he wanted,

and he always wanted to do it.

He always accomplished what he wanted.

His curiosity was endless.

"Here's a little picture of what the planets are.

And each planet has a symbol."

"Mercury symbol, Venus symbol, Earth symbol,

Mars symbol, Jupiter symbol."

One day he said to Susan, "What's this free

family entertainment downtown Highland Park?"

"Free family entertainment

downtown Highland Park."

He was three at the time.

She said, "What are you talking about?"

He said, "Look, it says here

on the refrigerator,"

"Free family entertainment

downtown Highland Park."

She was floored and astonished

that he could read.

It's called "My Family Seder".

The Seder night is different

from all other nights.

I remember once, we were at

the University of Chicago Library.

I pulled a book off the shelf

that was from like 1900,

and showed to him and said, "You know,

this is really just an extraordinary place."

We all were curious children, but Aaron really

liked learning and really liked teaching.

"And we're going to learn the ABC backwards."

"Z, Y, X, W, V, U, T..."

I remember, he came home

from his first Algebra class.

He was like, "Noah, let me teach you algebra!"

And I'm like, "What is algebra?"

And he was always like that.

"Now let's press click button,

there! Now it's got that!"

"Now it's in pink!"

When he was about two or three years old,

and Bob introduced him to computers,

then he just took off like crazy on them.

(baby talk)

We all had computers, but Aaron really

took to them, really took to the Internet.

- Working at the computer?

- Nah...

"How come...Mommy,

why is nothing working?"

He started programming from

a really young age.

I remember the first program

that I wrote with him was in BASIC,

and it was a Star Wars trivia game.

He sat down with me in the basement,

where the computer was,

for hours, programming this game.

The problem that I kept having with him is

that there was nothing that I wanted done,

and to him, there

was always something to do,

always something that

programming could solve.

The way Aaron always saw it, is that

programming is magic.

You can accomplish these things

that normal humans can't.

Aaron made an ATM using like a Macintosh

and like a cardboard box.

One year for Halloween,

I didn't know what I wanted to be,

and he thought it would be really, really cool

if I dressed up like his new favorite computer,

which at the time was the original iMac.

I mean, he hated dressing up for Halloween

but he loved convincing other people

to dress up as things that he wanted to see.

"Host Aaron, stop!

Guys, come on, look at the camera!"

"Spiderman looks at the camera!"

He made this website called The Info,

where people can just fill in information.

I'm sure someone out there knows

all about gold, gold leafing...

Why they don't write about that on this website?

And then other people can come at a later point,

and read that information, and edit

the information if they thought it was bad.

Not too dissimilar from Wikipedia, right?

And this was before Wikipedia had begun,

and this was developed by a 12-year-old,

in his room, by himself, running on this

tiny server using ancient technology.

And one of the teachers responds,

"This is a terrible idea, you can't just

let anyone author the encyclopedia!"

"The whole reason we have scholars

is to write these books for us."

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Brian Knappenberger

Brian Knappenberger is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, known for The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, and his work on Bloomberg Game Changers. The documentary film We Are Legion (2012) was written and directed by Knappenberger. It is about the workings and beliefs of the self-described hacktivist collective Anonymous.In June 2014, The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz was released. The film is about the life of internet activist Aaron Swartz. The film was on the short list for the 2015 Academy Award for best documentary feature.Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press was released on Netflix in June 2017, after debuting at the Sundance Film Festival. It follows professional wrestler Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker Media, and the takeover of the Las Vegas Review-Journal by casino owner Sheldon Adelson.Knappenberger has directed and executive produced numerous other documentaries for the Discovery Channel, Bloomberg, and PBS, including PBS' Ice Warriors: USA Sled Hockey. He owns and operates Luminant Media, a Los Angeles based production and post-production company. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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