post

Aaron Swartz, 1986-2013

Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz

Update: Statement from Aaron’s family:

Our beloved brother, son, friend, and partner Aaron Swartz hanged himself on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment. We are in shock, and have not yet come to terms with his passing.

Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable—these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.

Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the scope and accessibility of human knowledge. He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across generations and continents. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.

Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.

Today, we grieve for the extraordinary and irreplaceable man that we have lost.

Aaron’s funeral will be held on Tuesday, January 15 at Central Avenue Synagogue, 874 Central Avenue, Highland Park, Illinois 60035. Further details, including the specific time, will be posted at http://rememberaaronsw.com, along with announcements about memorial services to be held in other cities in coming weeks.

Remembrances of Aaron, as well as donations in his memory, can be submitted at http://rememberaaronsw.com

In 2003 during SXSW Interactive EFF-Austin and EFF threw a party in a club called Texture in downtown Austin. Cory Doctorow, Sandy Stone and I were instigators of the party. Cory showed up with Lisa Rein and a teenager who helped us make the wifi work. Cory told me that the teen was brilliant, but I could see that for myself. He seemed a little shell-shocked, too – an east coast kid in Texas for the first time with the whacky, diverse crowd that EFF-Austin attracted.

He was Aaron Swartz, and I crossed paths with him at other conferences and heard his name over and again as found ways to apply his genius, helping create the essential RSS protocol for online sharing and cofounding Reddit and Demand Progress. Those who noted his accomplisments saw him as a force to be reckoned with, and imagined that he would have a brilliant future. Unfortunately he had a brush with the law for downloading 4 million academic articles from JSTOR.

Aaron, who had battled depression, committed suicide yesterday. Read Cory’s obit. Read Larry Lessig’s reaction.

I don’t have anything to add – I didn’t know Aaron well enough, I don’t know the merits of the case, I’m conflicted over IP issues and would like to see the copyright wars end with a truce and some kind of reasonableness. I don’t know that Aaron’s death was brought on by his legal troubles, but I’m pretty clear he wasn’t a criminal, and I’m sure being treated as one didn’t help.

post

The WELL has been an important driver for evolving Internet culture

At bOING bOING, Cory Doctorow explains what’s happening with the WELL. I commented there, reposted here:

My view is that you can’t overstate the significance of the WELL and its parent, Point Foundation/Whole Earth. Early bloggers (like those at boing boing and yours truly) were influenced by the structure of reviews in the Whole Earth publications, and adopted a similar style. For many of us, our WELL accounts were our pathway onto the Internet. Much of the culture of the Internet post 1990, especially the concept and execution of virtual community and the way it evolved into contemporary social media, was inspired and driven by experiences on the WELL. In my own case, I built an Internet career starting with my volunteer work at the WELL, and made many of my connections there. I became an editor for boing boing and Factsheet Five through connections on the WELL, a writer for publications like Mondo 2000, cofounder of FringeWare publisher of FringeWare Review, all via connections and experiences on the WELL. I became an active member and supporter of EFF and cofounder of EFF-Austin because of the WELL. I’ve had a number of major author interviews on in the Inkwell conference on the WELL, as well as the annual state of the world conversation Bruce Sterling and I have had every January for 13 years – we doubtless wouldn’t have done that without the WELL. I first heard the word “weblog” when Bruce applied it to his posts in the Mirrorshades conference that we cohosted on the WELL. I also recall, when Katie Hafner was working on her book about the WELL and interviewed me at her office, which was then in Austin, that I saw a diagram on her wall that she’d been working on, that showed how communal movements in the 60s fed into the WELL, and the WELL fed into the evolution of community and social aggregation on the Internet. From my perspective, the WELL’s influence has been huge.

post

Cory Doctorow in Austin

Cory Doctorow was in Austin yesterday on a book tour for his new young adult novel, For the Win. Cory says he likes writing young adult fiction because it’s for people who use it, not just for entertainment, but to figure out the world. Cory introduced me to another science fiction writer, Steven Brust, now living in Austin. I love the information-dense, visionary, ironic and funny conversations science fiction geeks have, just casually over dinner or drinks. Cory’s not just a science fiction geek, though – he’s also an Internet maven and activist, especially focused on issues like copyfight and freedom to connect. Cory is former EFF online activist and board member of EFF-Austin, which threw an after party, called “Whuffiefest,” following his book signing. Produced by Plutopia Productions, the event had a large and enthusiastic turnout.