HotDocs, Aaron Swartz and Cory Doctorow

Cory and me

My friend Mariann has been an avid promoter and attendee of Toronto’s HotDocs festival, lo these many years. So it was no surprise when she called to recruit me to be part of her entourage while attending said festival. I had, in fact, discussed one of this year’s selections with colleagues at my new place of employment (well, perhaps not so new any longer: I’ve been there about six months now; but more on that another time), and was keen to attend a screening of The Internet’s Own Boy: Aaron Swartz. But not just any screening: one of the several screenings was to feature a panel discussion with Cory Doctorow, Lawrence Lessig, Gabriella Coleman and the director, Brian Knappenberger.


The movie was about Aaron Swartz, who’s long list of accomplishments is well documented all over the web. Suffice it to say he was one of the founders of Reddit, helped develop the RSS and Markdown standards, and was a major force in defeating SOPA. Among much else.

He was one of the bright lights of the Internet. In a pantheon of bright lights, his shone brighter than most.

The tragedy was that the Justice Department took it upon itself to make an example of Aaron, for what amounted to a minor transgression. They persecuted him, threatening him with 30 years of prison and a million dollar fine. After years of this abuse, he finally succumbed to the stress and committed suicide on January 11, 2013.

So, I did score the tickets, even though it was one of the first screenings to sell out. I waited for an hour in the rain, so I could get a good seat. (The young lady in line in front of me didn’t think it was worth her while to deploy her collapsible umbrella, and perhaps share its protection with her queuemates.) And not only did I get good seats for myself and the rest of Mariann’s retinue, but we were sitting right in front of Cory and his parents.

OK, so any pretense of coolness is out the window at this point. I freely admit it, I’m a HUGE Cory fan. I’ve read practically all of his oeuvre; (well, the fiction, anyways) and have pretty much exhausted any semblance of patience in anyone who’s willing to listen about how terrific his books are. But then you hear him hold forth extemporaneously, and you begin to get the full measure of the intellect we’re dealing with.

Yeah, maybe the gushing’s gone over the top.

2 thoughts on “HotDocs, Aaron Swartz and Cory Doctorow

  1. When I read that Aaron had killed himself, I had high hopes that it would change something, a bit like these Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire back in Vietnam in the 1960s/early seventies to protest the Van Thieu regime. But in both cases things only got worse, though always for different reasons. Looking at the papers Aaron downloaded this is all a very sad travesty. And bankers roam free …

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