I.M. Aaron Swartz

Henk Buursen

On Friday February 15, fellow Patrice Riemens and system administrator Henk Buursen organized a meet up in remembrance of Aaron Schwartz, the famous American Internet and social justice activist who committed suicide on January 11th 2013. Following is a blog about this evening by Patrice Riemens.

It went remarkably well with 18 people in attendance (we had invited about 25), from a relatively broad spectrum of backgrounds. Our intention was to have a no-pretence, convivial and conversational get together around a table (a big square in our case). The setting of the historic Anatomic Theatre (portrayed by Rembrandt) contributed to the 'right' atmosphere, with a large projection on the wall of Aaron holding a glass of wine (beer? juice? hard liquor? ;-) and smiling to us.

We started with everyone reading for themselves the translation of a letter that was written by an Italian friend of mine, who is expressing some doubts about the hype around Aaron after his death, and about our turbo-charged, technology addicted life-style in general. This was intended to steer the ensuing conversation away from mere 'more of the same' pronouncements toward self-reflexion and tuning down our ambitions and self-importance. This was a success, as a lively dialogue ensued about the reach and the limits of what we can do to combat the very forces that appeared to have contributed to Aaron’s demise in the end.

As the attendance was quite varied (though as one of the participants rightly remarked, still limited to the ‘digerati'), there was a good exchange of information and experiences, and people did indeed liaise in order to try to initiate fresh, and maybe unexpected, collaborative ventures.

Of course, we did not manage to tackle all issues that the occasion inspired us to consider, but that was to be expected - and in fact to be welcomed. Just as life itself, this was a (small) step in a never ending work-in-progress, and for progress. And it was heartening to see a consensus on fundamental values and a shared commitment to uphold them.

Raising a goblet of Schiedam Jenever, the traditional West African custom to honour the departed, we closed the session with a reading of the last sentences of Jens Stoltenberg's remembrance speech for the Oslo/Utoya tragedy, which we think holds universal truth: "Realise the shortness of existence, remember the good times we had together, and honour the dead by celebrating life.”

About the author

  • Henk Buursen is head of system administration since 2000.