I woke to the sad news that Aaron Swartz has died by suicide.
I have been inspired by Aaron’s work and philosophy since 2004, when I started reading his thought-provoking blog. I checked in with him after a few of his more down-spirited posts, and this led to a very loose, occasional friendship by email. Our paths nearly crossed in the Boston area a few times but owing separately to his or my own social anxieties, we never met in person.
Like many successful people, Aaron never seemed to appreciate his own achievements the way others did. After Reddit was acquired by Wired, presumably making him rich, he wrote about his inability to celebrate like his co-founders did, and all but wished it undone.
A piece that will probably get a lot of attention in the wake of his death is his own dramatic post about suicide from 2007, which was originally written auto-biographically. The post elicited responses from many people, including me. I wrote to reassure him, lightly, that many folks would miss him if he left us. He thanked me, and said he was “just having a really bad week.”
Given the combination of challenges Aaron faced, from the inner voices that talked down his successes or criticized his appearance, to the fear of imprisonment for trumped up charges of wire fraud, these “really bad weeks” may have been frequent.
It’s hard to find an appropriate perspective for commemorating somebody who has died so suddenly and so tragically. When suicide is involved, our society tends to look for someone or something to blame, often the victim himself. After witnessing a small extent of the struggles Aaron fought, I choose to commemorate him with gratitude for the many bad weeks when he resisted drastic action, and gave us all more time to appreciate and share his contributions.