Monday, January 14
Saturday morning, I rolled over and shut off the alarm on my phone and got on
Twitter for a second to see what was up in the wider world. I saw that Quinn
Norton had mentioned something about Aaron Swartz, and then I realized that
what she’d said probably meant that he was dead.
Most of the web that I pay attention to just kind of exploded with it after
that. This stream of grief and anger. I found myself standing in my kitchen
crying over a guy I’d never met.
I never so much as exchanged an e-mail with Aaron Swartz. I maybe commented a
time or two on his blog. There might have been other occasions, but the only
time I can remember saying anything about his work in public was to write here,
back in 2010, that something he’d written about how smart people see the world
sounded like bullshit. (It probably was. Smart people are wrong plenty.)
He wasn’t a friend or a collaborator of mine. He was just one of those voices
out there - a writer I followed as both of us were becoming adults, a hacker of
some renown, a guy whose politics I often liked. I’m writing this entry in
Markdown, a lightweight markup language he influenced considerably. He fought
the good fight on machine-readability, which matters quite a bit to how I use
the web. Like a lot of nerds, I spent a good chunk of the last 6 years on
reddit, where I started to learn how to program in earnest. When he got busted
for scraping articles from JSTOR from an MIT network connection, I was struck
by the similarity to semi-serious plans I’d once made at UNL (hadn’t I started
writing a little Perl robot one afternoon?), and by the brutal, sadistic
absurdity of the Feds prosecuting anyone for such a benign act.
In the last few days I’ve noticed how important he was to a huge proportion of
the people I respect in the technical & political world, the people who are
voices out there and hackers of some renown. It turns out he was a friend and
collaborator to a lot of the good ones.