Mark Drapeau (Washington, DC) —
Aaron Swartz, a digital activist described as a wizardly computer programmer and prodigy by friends and colleagues, committed suicide recently; here is his well-written New York Times obituary. Much has been written about him, his career, his struggles with depression, and his tangles with the law in his quest for “freedom,” in numerous senses of the word.
I didn’t know him, and I don’t wish to write a commentary or make any arguments in this piece. Rather, because I’ve read a lot of other peoples’ commentary about him in the last couple of days, I thought I’d link to the five best things I’ve read, along with a some very brief notes.
“Aaron Swartz, Boy Genius,” by Anil Dash (2002)
This short post by longtime blogger Anil Dash is about meeting Aaron Swartz in 2002 and being in awe of his accomplishments at such a young age.
“That Vision Thing,” by Aaron Swartz (2007)
This touching, personal blog post by Aaron himself discusses his problems with his vision and seeing the world around him.
“Was Aaron Swartz stealing?,” by Maria Bustillos (2011)
This article at The Awl goes into a fair amount of detail about the legal issues underlying what Aaron Swartz did with regard to downloading JSTOR articles from MIT’s computers.
“RIP, Aaron Swartz,” by Cory Doctorow (2013)
This enlightening obituary at Doctorow’s blog Boing Boing is about Swartz both as a professional and as a person.
“My Aaron Swartz, Whom I Loved,” by Quinn Norton (2013)
This is a touching post-mortem love letter from Aaron’s girlfriend, published publicly on her blog.
I also enjoyed a few quotes from other sources:
The prosecution “makes no sense, it’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.” — David Segar, executive director of Demand Progress (Politico)
“If places like M.I.T. aren’t safe for people to be a little miscreant in their quest for truth and understanding, then we’re in a lot of trouble.” — Michael McCarthy, a 30-year-old animator from Providence, RI (NY Times)
“Aaron dead. World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down. Parents all, we have lost a child. Let us weep.” — Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web (among many other things) (via Tim’s Twitter)
And finally, this photo of a 14-year-old Aaron Swartz speaking with Harvard professor Larry Lessig (photo via Jay Rosen’s blog):
Mark Drapeau, Ph.D. is the Director of Innovative Engagement for Public Sector at Microsoft, based in Washington, DC.