*Disclaimer: I am neither condoning nor supporting hactivism. I am simply writing about a man who contributed tremendously to our society.
Fast Company recently published an email exchange between Ronald Lemos, Project Lead of the Creative Commons Brazil, and Aaron Swartz, former internet pioneer and internet activist. In the exchange, Lemos asks Swartz to explain how he did some of the important things he accomplished at a young age. He continues by asking Swartz if it was “Talent, inspiration, curiosity, hard work? Is there something that you would think that other kids who would like to follow your steps should know?” Swartz responded with this:
When I was a kid, I thought a lot about what made me different from the other kids. I don’t think I was smarter than them and I certainly wasn’t more talented. And I definitely can’t claim I was a harder worker — I’ve never worked particularly hard, I’ve always just tried doing things I find fun. Instead, what I concluded was that I was more curious — but not because I had been born that way. If you watch little kids, they are intensely curious, always exploring and trying to figure out how things work. The problem is that school drives all that curiosity out. Instead of letting you explore things for yourself, it tells you that you have to read these particular books and answer these particular questions. And if you try to do something else instead, you’ll get in trouble. Very few people’s curiosity can survive that. But, due to some accident, mine did. I kept being curious and just followed my curiosity. First I got interested in computers, which led me to get interested in the Internet, which led me to get interested in building online news sites, which led me to get interested in standards (like RSS), which led me to get interested in copyright reform (since Creative Commons wanted to use similar standards). And on and on. Curiosity builds on itself — each new thing you learn about has all sorts of different parts and connections, which you then want to learn more about. Pretty soon you’re interested in more and more and more, until almost everything seems interesting. And when that’s the case, learning becomes really easy — you want to learn about almost everything, since it all seems really interesting. I’m convinced that the people we call smart are just people who somehow got a head start on this process. I fell like the only thing I’ve really done is followed my curiosity wherever it led, even if that meant crazy things like leaving school or not taking a “real” job. This isn’t easy — my parents are still upset with me that I dropped out of school — but it’s always worked for me.
I think Swartz’s response speaks volumes about the state of our education system and the state of our own curiosities. There are many things to remember about Aaron Swartz, and I think this statement should be included. We have to stay curious in order to create and innovate. We must not let anyone or anything take away our curiosity and our passion to learn based on our personal interests.
The full email exchange can be found here.