A World without Aaron Swartz
It was a weekend not focussing on technology or internet much, but I saw some usual patterns that are the usual signs that something is not well, but I had other things that took priority of focus. Sunday I gave a quick look and let out that human deep gasp and my kid looked up and asked what was wrong as my head slumped. I was late to the news that Aaron Swartz had taken his life. I don’t know what site I read it but all my screens of services and people I follow closely where sharing the news and their remembrances.
Aaron’s passing was beyond the “he is too young” and “what a shame”, he was not only someone special he was changing the world and had been for quite a while with his sorting through the battles of standardizing RSS, working with the Creative Commons to create a modern equivalent that could be relatively easily used attach to published and shared content allowing much better and more open access to it, he helped contribute to Reddit as it was hatching and stayed with it through to it being purchased. He has done so much more since. But, he died at 26 years old. At 14 when he was partaking in the RSS discussions on listserves nobody knew his age. Nobody had a clue and it wasn’t known until they asked him to come to a gathering to discuss things face to face. This story of his age and the wonderful story about how people found out was spread on listserves I participated in and at around post conference drinks in the early 00s. At the age of 14 Aaron had lore. He had earned the respect and right to be a peer with the early grey beards of the Web that were battling to understand it all, help it work better, and make the world better because of it. Aarron fit right in.
I was at a few events and gatherings that Aaron was at in the early 00s but I never had the chance to work or interact with him. But, I have worked and interacted with many who did have that fortune and even with the lore Aaron had they were impressed by his approach, capabilities, and what he could accomplish. In the tech community it is a meritocracy and you earn credibility by doing. The world has always been changed by those who do, but also by those who are curious. but are guided by an understanding of an optimal right (correct way).
What we lost as a society was not only a young man who earned his place and credibility, and earned it early, but he gave to others openly. All the efforts he put his heart and mind to had a greater benefit to all. The credo in the tech community is to give back more than you take. Aaron did that in spades, which made thinking of a future with whatever he was working on a bit more bright and promising. Aaron’s blog was at the top of my feed reader and was more than worth the time to read. He was a blogger, an open sharer of thoughts and insights, questions as well as the pursuit of the answer to the questions. This is not the human norm, he was a broken one in all the understandings that brings as being outside the mainstream norms, but much like all those in the Apple “Think Different” ad campaign he made a difference by thinking different and being different from those norms.
I love David Weinberger’s Aaron Swartz was not a hacker. He was a builder. as well as his Why we mourn. From the rough edges of hearing friends talk about their working with Aaron and following along with what he shared, we as a society were in for a special future. Doc Searls’ Aaron Swartz and Freecom lays out wonderfully the core of Aaron’s soul as a native to the Net in the virtues of NEA (Nobody owns it; Everybody can use it; Anybody con improve it). Doc also has a great collection of links on his memorial posting, many from those who worked with Aaron or knew him well on his Losing Aaron Swartz page.
Dang it, we are one down. We are down a great one. But, this net, this future, and this society that fills this little planet needs the future we could have had, but now it is ours to work together to build and make great.
How to we get there? Aaron’s first piece of advice from Aaron Swarts: How to get my job is, “Be curious. Read widely. Try new things. I think a lot of what people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity.”