Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Tribute to Aaron Swartz

This week, we lost an amazing mind in the world of technology.  Aaron Swartz committed suicide after a prolonged battle with depression.  In case you are unaware of Aaron's contributions to our world: he had a part (and no small part) in developing the concept of RSS Feeds, Co-founding Reddit, led the development of the nonprofit Open Library in 2007 and assisted in laying structure of the framework for the development of Creative Commons licensing - among many other projects.  But until now, you probably didn't have a clue who he was.  Aaron was also a man of conviction and was passionate about the concepts of freedom of information the Internet.  This led him to develop Demand Progress an organization committed to the aforementioned ideal.

Unfortunately, living by one's convictions can often lead you over the top and outside the bounds of social norms.  In 2011, Aaron was indicted on charges of downloading millions of documents illegally from the non for profit online database JSTOR which provide academic journal articles free of charge.  I will not speculate on whether his actions were right or wrong.  Unfortunately, facing a prison sentence of up to 35 years for hacking, Aaron took his own life.  Aaron had suffered from depression for some time as he noted in this blog post from 2007.  It is my opinion that passion, genius and depression are typically a recipe for a catastrophic disaster and in this particular case it took a young 26 year old from us much too soon.  

Depression needs to stop being looked at as a stigma in the world in which we live.  It is a sickness that must be addressed and allowed to be done without shame.  Who knows what a bright star like Aaron would have accomplished if he had gotten the help he obviously needed.  We need to watch out for each other and be a support system to those in need.  We need to be more alert so that these kinds of tragedies can be prevented.  Rest in Peace Aaron and as Tim Berners Lee so succinctly tweeted at the news of your loss: "Aaron dead. World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down. Parents all, we have lost a child. Let us weep."  You will be missed.




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