Aaron Swartz at a Boston Wikipedia Meetup in 2009. By Sage Ross (Flickr: Boston Wiki Meetup), via Wikimedia Commons.
I had other plans for how to spend my Saturday. I had other plans for my next blog post here at The Nation. Then I learned my friend Aaron Swartz had committed suicide, facing a baseless, bullying federal indictment that might have sent him to jail for decades, and fate demanded this be a day to remember.
I remember him contacting me out of the blue—was it in 2005?—and telling me I needed a website, and did I want him to build one for me? I smelled a hustle, asking him how much it would cost, and he said, no, he wanted to do it for free. I thought, What a loser this guy must be. Someone with nothing better to do.
How long was it before I learned instead that he actually was a ball of pure coruscation, the guy who had just about invented something called an “RSS feed” and a moral philosopher and public-intellectual-without-portfolio and tireless activist and makeshift Internet-era self-help guru and self-employed archivist and what his deeply inadequate New York Times obituary called “an unwavering crusader to make that information free of charge”—and, oh yes, how long was it after I heard from him that I learned that he was, what, 20 years old?
My friend Jon Stokes reminds me of the time Jon invited me and my then-wife out to dinner, and Aaron tagged along—he was an inveterate tagger-along, a modern-day Luftmensch—and explained to us this thing he helped make called Reddit, which I did not understand at all. I didn’t understand anything about that part of his professional world; it was only that he somehow understood everything about my professional world. All of our minds, each of us, contain a universe, but how is it that his mind contained fourteen or fifteen of them?