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Reddit Cofounder Aaron Swartz Dead From Suicide At 26


Some sad news out of New York City: Aaron Swartz, the digital activist best known for laying the groundwork for massively popular (and powerful) aggregating site Reddit, took his own life yesterday.

MIT's The Tech gives more details about Swartz's short life:

Swartz was indicted in July 2011 by a federal grand jury for allegedly mass downloading documents from the JSTOR online journal archive with the intent to distribute them. He subsequently moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he then worked for Avaaz Foundation, a nonprofit "global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere." Swartz appeared in court on Sept. 24, 2012 and pleaded not guilty.

The accomplished Swartz co-authored the now widely-used RSS 1.0 specification at age 14, was one of the three co-owners of the popular social news site Reddit, and completed a fellowship at Harvard’s Ethics Center Lab on Institutional Corruption.

In their notice of Swartz's death, CNN included a note he wrote about his inevitable death: "There is a moment, immediately before life becomes no longer worth living, when the world appears to slow down and all its myriad details suddenly become brightly, achingly apparent."

Boing Boing cofounder and a Swartz's friend, Cory Doctorow, said, "Aaron accomplished some incredible things in his life.

"He was one of the early builders of Reddit (someone always turns up to point out that he was technically not a co-founder, but he was close enough as makes no damn), got bought by Wired/Conde Nast, engineered his own dismissal and got cashed out, and then became a full-time, uncompromising, reckless and delightful shit-disturber."

And to think of all the things he could have still accomplished...

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  1. That post is pretty stupid. Seems like it was written by a defensive high school kid.

    Though being smart, handsome, and rich isn't always a recipe for happiness. It can lead to isolation and misunderstanding.

    Posted by: Paul R | Jan 12, 2013 6:41:02 PM

  2. "Sorry, but he was attempting a MASSIVE infringement of copyrights. That's illegal and should remain so."

    You apparently don't understand the nuances of his actions, the material involved, or the case against him.
    But regardless, in my opinion, scientific inquiry - at least - should not be subject to conventional copyright. And I would have thought that before this case. I can accept "entertainment" being a "product" that can be "stolen" leading to punishment, but not research material whose free dissemination can now be accomplished at absolutely no cost, or only a trivial cost. What's the counter case? Do millions of American households subscribe to NATURE GENETICS at hundreds of dollars per year? Thus costing Elsevier billions if they cancel their subs? No, they do not. It's an unnecessary hold-over from the age of dead tree books. As it my de facto opinion is becoming the norm anyhow, because scientific research paid for with public funds will have to be made available for free. Institutional bodies should continue to contribute the funds that they already do to access such journals. It's not "unfair" when the publication mill brings them fame and fortune. Letting the general public access the material for free - any anyone already can if they bother to drive to an open-stack library - is an absolute drop in the bucket of the whole system. It's a drop in a swimming pool.

    Posted by: EchtKultig | Jan 12, 2013 6:45:04 PM


    Posted by: bd | Jan 12, 2013 8:23:26 PM

  4. I think some of the most creative and intelligent souls among us lead a very torturous life. It's very difficult for regular people to understand what they go through mentally and emotionally. It's like they hold the secret of universe many of us cannot even begin to comprehend.

    Posted by: bambinoitaliano | Jan 12, 2013 8:40:03 PM

  5. Not only accomplished - but very handsome. Very sad.

    Posted by: TyInTennn | Jan 12, 2013 9:43:10 PM

  6. Respect The Choice: I'm sorry for your loss and pain you feel. I understand both.

    My dad committed suicide when I was 18, and that will haunt me the rest of my life (I'm 57). I didn't know he was depressed, and really had no idea what depression was.

    I found out, though, and have been dogged by repeated depressions, a number of suicide attempts and three hospitalizations (two against my will) since my early 20s.

    I HATE it when people try to find an explanation for suicide. I understand that's a natural human impulse, but unless you've been there with an X-acto knife in your arm hoping to bleed to death, you can't know that there is no ONE reason. They're myriad (as you explain).

    BUT I don't accept your conclusions about suicide. If I did, I would have died decades ago, and look at all that I would have missed in this world, all the experiences (good and bad), the people (good and bad) and the places (almost all pretty good).

    When I had the X-acto knife in my arm, no one could have convinced me there was any good in remaining in this world. But there were people so stubborn -- some I knew, many professionals I had never met -- that they wouldn't let me die. If I had to stay in bed for a week, they'd let me do that. If I ran away for a week, they always took me back. If I shouted and screamed and said I hated them, they took it in stride.

    And slowly, very slowly, they convinced me that no one in this world -- even me, despite that I though the opposite -- would benefit from my death. And I believe that's true for everyone. No suicide improves the world, and it cheats the suicide victim of the chance to see the world in a different way. There are some weeks I still stay in bed. But there are longer stretches when I love seeing the sunrise or take joy in the fact that I can watch "Star Wars" again.

    So, I hope you reconsider your thinking. I mourn Aaron and can't imagine the pain he felt and make no judgment and seek no explanation. He can explain it, no one else. But what I try to tell groups of people who are fighting depression is similar to the AA motto: One day at a time. Today seems utterly hopeless. But that's just today. Get through today somehow -- sleep through it, binge eat, watch porn, whatever. (No drinking or drugs, though.) A good day will come, and you build on it and build on it until the impulse to destroy yourself becomes a wound -- an emotional scar -- but one that can't hurt you anymore.

    Posted by: BrianM | Jan 12, 2013 10:18:03 PM

  7. Tragic. Tragic. Tragic.

    God knows what happens within a person such as Aaron Swartz that he would choose to end his life.

    It is interesting that there is a debate here as to whether or not suicide is a legitimate "choice" for anyone when they feel that life has become too much to bear.

    Regardless, to see someone such as Aaron take his own life is the same as hearing that someone OD'd. It just seems like a waste.

    I wish comfort to his family and friends. I wish his soul to finally be at peace.

    Posted by: jamal49 | Jan 13, 2013 1:21:40 AM

  8. Please be kind to those who are against suicide. They don't know any better and they only want to help but don't really know how. I wish I could have met Aaron over a cup of coffee. Perhaps with a few kind words we could have become friends and maybe I could have helped him see that his life was not yet finished.

    Posted by: Bill Michael | Jan 13, 2013 1:43:39 AM

  9. I don't need someone to be kind to me. I've been suicidal and close to people who have killed themselves. It's a selfish act. There is always a better solution. It inflicts horrible pain on the people left behind. There are no two ways about it unless a deadly disease is involved.

    Posted by: Paul R | Jan 13, 2013 4:54:24 AM

  10. so young. so pointless.

    Posted by: joe | Jan 13, 2013 6:21:37 AM

  11. So sad when ANYONE takes their own life! A great loss!

    Posted by: billmiller | Jan 13, 2013 7:38:56 AM

  12. @Dave(247:43 PM) What's the difference if he was gay or not?

    Posted by: Jerry Pritikin aka The Bleacher Preacher | Jan 13, 2013 8:53:35 AM

  13. Yes, he was a handsome man. And 26...that should have been the best time of his life IMHO, I loved my mid to late 20s.

    A couple of things:

    I've read multiple posts from his Raw thought blog and found his ideas and angle on different subjects refreshing and to the point, if somewhat intriguingly juvenile [I guess that was the point] vs other so-called progressive bloggers. The man deserves credit for not toeing the party line, being obnoxiously P.C., and having some original thoughts. As specifically regarding his post on gay identity, he made some good and controversial points, although I didn't entirely agree with him. But the fact he brought it up at all, and gave an opinion that no doubt irritated the usual shills, especially considering he was an otherwise 'progressive', took balls and I admire him for it. If he had posted that on TR there'd be the usual posters having a stroke trying to outdo each other in condemning and mocking him. Yes, Lil' Kiwi, he had daddy issues and he was a self-hating closet-case.

    But I do find much of his online eulogy and adulation from admirers a little over the top. An if I hear 'Brilliant' one more time...well, never mind. Yes, he was undoubtedly a smart man, but he wasn't God-like and he made some errors in judgment that cost him dearly. He was technically guilty of serious federal crimes and yes he could very well have ended up going to prison. Although I agree with advocacy, I still recognize the risks involved in doing what he did, and the risks of being prosecuted. And federal prosecutions are no joke, don't don't fool around, they are deadly serious [that is of course unless you're a too big to fail financial institution or a corporate executive who laundered drug money, etc., then you get a pass]. AND TO THE OBAMA SHILLS: Carmen Ortiz is of course an Obama appointee, as is of course is Eric Holder Hope and change my arse.

    Finally, I find the comments from Mr. Swartz's family and friends about him killing himself over MIT and the federal prosecutor Ortiz disturbing. No doubt most people who face federal prosecution wether they be drug dealers,con-artists, or whatever, become very upset and anxious. Mr. Swartz was not unique in this respect. I understand Mr. Swartz's family's pain, but I find their comments somewhat disingenuous, although I'm sure not malicious. I don't think people kill themselves over stuff like this and Mr. Swartz had ample time left. His trial hadn't even started yet, and nothing was a given. I think Mr. Swartz killed himself for intensely private reasons that had little to nothing to do with his advocacy issues or court case. Maybe he left an honest and sincere suicide message. Judging by his raw thought posts, it would make an interesting read.

    R.I.P. Mr. Swartz.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Jan 13, 2013 10:15:50 AM

  14. Suicide is a permanet end-result of depression, and yet effective treatments are available that can save your life / the life of someone you care about. Of all the thousands of suicides that occur every day, in the few that make headlines I hope that someone hearing of it will take the first brave, important step of getting help. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) 24/7. LGBT, straight, 'on the down low' or however you identify, you are not alone.

    Posted by: xtian2012 | Jan 13, 2013 5:19:37 PM

  15. @PaulR: Obviously life has left you more bitter than introspective. You sound like just another cowardly catholic with a crucifix up your a$$, projecting your own solipsistic selfishness onto people who have the guts and/or gumption to end their own suffering.

    You've had several people close to you end their lives? Assuming that's true, you damned sure don't sound like you're worth much as a friend. Dude...maybe it's YOU.

    Posted by: Choice. | Jan 13, 2013 8:10:48 PM

  16. Wait, I am supposed to have sympathy for this jerk? He has the world at his feet, and he decides to ditch out and leave this mess for everyone else.
    Suicide is for the selfish.

    Posted by: Mawm | Jan 14, 2013 8:20:01 AM

  17. At some point do we ever just get sick and tired of the suicide opt out? I mean really, I've contemplated suicide as I think a lot of us have but man, it seems like people are trying to be martyrs instead of owning up to the fact that not everything is a cake walk. Actions equal consequences - so man up. Not to say bullying isn't real, isn't hard, and isn't physically and emotionally draining, but damn. If you can't stand up for yourself you'll never be able to survive - with or without someone standing behind you.

    Posted by: jakeinlove | Jan 14, 2013 11:09:17 AM

  18. Anyone interested in the details might want to read which includes a letter from MIT's president.

    A couple of quotes from the article:
    JSTOR and Swartz settled their dispute over his actions, but MIT brought in police to investigate Swartz's activities, an action which led to Swartz's prosecution.

    MIT's cooperation with authorities in the case has been controversial on campus.

    "What Aaron Swartz did was a clear violation of the rules and protocols of the library and the community," MIT professor Christopher Capozzola told the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2011. "But the penalties in this case, and the sources of those penalties, are really remarkable. These penalties really go against MIT's culture of breaking down barriers."

    It seems the downloads had cause JSTOR's servers to crash and had led to JSTOR blocking access from MIT for a few days. There's a wide spread opinion that the possible penalties (30 years in jail) were completely excessive. One thing we should be asking: did what is obviously a "zero tolerance" reaction on the part of a prosecutor cause a suicide and are these draconian punishments at all appropriate, particularly when even the supposed victims think such punishments are beyond reason.

    Posted by: Bill | Jan 14, 2013 3:20:16 PM

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