Aaron Swartz, the intelligent programmer and Internet activist who co-founded the company that eventually grew into Reddit, committed suicide on Friday in his New York City apartment. He was 26.
The sad news of his death was confirmed early Saturday morning, with those closest to him revealing his long-time battle with depression.
Swartz’s attorney, Elliot R. Peters, confirmed the tragic news, stating, “The tragic and heartbreaking information you received is, regrettably, true.”
Aaron Swartz was only 14 when he co-authored an early version of RSS. He later started Infogami, which eventually merged with Reddit.
He was also the co-founder of an online activist group called Demand Progress, who said their mission was to “win progressive policy changes for ordinary people through organizing, and grassroots lobbying.”
Swartz was arrested in July 2011 for allegedly downloading approximately 4 million academic journals from JSTOR with the intent to distribute them for free over P2p file-sharing sites. He was charged with wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer.
He entered a not guilty plea in court in September 2012. Just two days before Swartz’s suicide, JSTOR began offering free but limited access to its archives.
Most of you are wondering why such an intelligent young man with his whole life ahead of him would take his own life.
Aaron Swartz had touched on his depression battle in the past. In his speech from 2007, he talked about his time at Reddit and the first few weeks after it was purchased by Conde Nast.
He said, “We all flew out to San Francisco and begun working at the offices of Wired News (we were purchased by Condé Nast, a big publishing company which owns Wired, along with many other magazines).
“I was miserable. I couldn’t stand San Francisco. I couldn’t stand office life. I couldn’t stand Wired. I took a long Christmas vacation. I got sick. I thought of suicide. I ran from the police. And when I got back on Monday morning, I was asked to resign.
In his blog post that same year, Swartz opened up more about his battle with depression.
Swartz revealed, “Your face falls. Perhaps you cry. You feel worthless. You wonder whether it’s worth going on. Everything you think about seems bleak – the things you’ve done, the things you hope to do, the people around you. You want to lie in bed and keep the lights off. Depressed mood is like that, only it doesn’t come for any reason and it doesn’t go for any either. Go outside and get some fresh air or cuddle with a loved one and you don’t feel any better, only more upset at being unable to feel the joy that everyone else seems to feel. Everything gets colored by the sadness.
“At best, you tell yourself that your thinking is irrational, that it is simply a mood disorder, that you should get on with your life. But sometimes that is worse. You feel as if streaks of pain are running through your head, you thrash your body, you search for some escape but find none.”
Technology activist Cory Doctorow met Swartz when he was 14 or 15, writing about the tragic death on his blog.
“In so many ways, he was an adult, even then, with a kind of intense, fast intellect that really made me feel like he was part and parcel of the Internet society,” Doctorow wrote.
“But Aaron was also a person who’d had problems with depression for many years,” Doctorow blogged. He added that “whatever problems Aaron was facing, killing himself didn’t solve them. Whatever problems Aaron was facing, they will go unsolved forever.”
Aaron Swartz – The Network Transformation by FrankyRP
Aaron’s good friend Quinn Norton wrote a very touching blog about him. You can read her heartfelt post here.
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