The Swartz Imperative

“You literally ought to be asking yourself all the time what is the most important thing in the world I could be working on right now, and if you are not working on that why aren’t you?”

– Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman describing her partner, Aaron Swartz

I had the good fortune to attend my first Personal Democracy Forum in NYC last month.   I’ve wanted to attend this conference for as long as I’ve known about it.  I ran into Micah Sifry serendipitously at SXSW, and after a brief fangirl introduction, I forced a hug on him.  Something people from the Northeast should probably never do, but I couldn’t resist.  I’m a Personal Democracy Plus subscriber, and get a great deal of value out of my $75 annual subscription.  I wanted to thank him for what he does.

Like so many others, I’ve long viewed the web– especially now, coupled with ubiquitous access via mobile and high-speed connectivity – as the technology platform that changed the game.  If I were still a practicing Catholic, I’d agree with the Pope that the Internet is a gift from God.  To that end, I’ve done my part to help change hearts and minds in places where hearts and minds are predominantly closed  (namely, big business).

Spending time with the grass-roots and non-profit activists at #PDF14 opened my eyes to a world of opportunities for mere mortals to make a difference.  It’s interesting how, even in this new age of connectivity, we are siloed via our professional orientations.  We immerse ourselves in group think chambers on the web.  Sitting in the auditorium for the keynotes and in the breakout sessions at #PDF14, I enjoyed being a newcomer, a n00b even.  Not knowing anyone, very few anyway, and bringing no baggage to the important discussions that lit up Twitter over the two days, I was able to filter the conversations and apply the big ideas to the challenges I face in my corner of the “let’s change the world” personal mandate.

The Aaron Swartz documentary came out a few weeks ago, and my son and I both watched it.  The quote at the top of this post taken from the film has haunted me ever since.  See the film.  And ask yourself, are you working on the most important thing you could be right now?