I cannot pretend that I knew Aaron Swartz except through the articles written about him, as well as the fruits of his labor: YCombinator, Reddit, the RSS specification. And yet when he took his own life on Jan 11, It only took a moment for me to realize that the world had lost yet another contributor to computing and technology far before their time.
Probably the most infamous version of this was Alan Turing, who at 41 took his own life through a cyanide-laced apple. His crime was being homosexual during a time at which it was not okay to be so, and we can only wonder – like Pythagoras, Galois, Abel, Ramanujan, Boltzmann, Jobs, et cetera, what wonderful and driving creations he may have discovered if only the world had not been cruel to him. So it is with Swartz.
Aaron Swartz, American Hero (Washington Post)
Remembering Aaron Swartz (TorrentFreak)
Aaron Swartz’ Electronic Will (Aaronsw.com)
As the TorrentFreak article says, it is not yet time to enter debate about the circumstances of his death. At the time, Swartz was in trouble with the government for copying electronic articles from paywalled sites like JSTOR. Either way, and whether you think his punishment was too harsh or not, his suicide only cut off what could have been a long and even more productive life.
I am proud to use RSS, read Reddit.com, and browse YCombinator’s news, and remind myself that thinking differently is a gift, not a crime. From Apple’s 1997 “Think Different” campaign:
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Take a little time to thank the different people in your life. As strange as they might be, remember that they’re the ones that make dents in the universe.