His friends called him a “prolific intellectual” and “a computer geek legend,” but they also acknowledged that he had long grappled with the specter of depression. This might explain why 26-year-old Reddit.com co-founder Aaron Swartz was found unconscious and near death in his Brooklyn home on Saturday. He ultimately succumbed to his self-inflicted injuries.
The New York Post notes that, in addition to Reddit and to drafting an early version of the RSS format, a “Web feed” that syndicates popular headlines, Swartz was an avid “Internet activist.” He pushed to make web files open to the public and opposed the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” which keeps hackers from stealing web content, such as music and movies.
He was arrested by federal officers in 2012 for allegedly downloading academic journals from the subscription-only website JSTOR.com. Although he pleaded not guilty, the case was still open at the time of his death. The possibility of facing decades in prison and a fortune in fines may have helped drive him to a final act of desperation.
Swartz began computer programming as teen, evolving into something of what his friends describe as a “hacker idol.”
“Aaron’s mind was a wonderful thing to get to encounter,” his friend Alyssa Rosenberg wrote at the blog ThinkProgress.org. Yet, despite his gifts, his dark thoughts dogged him, prompting him to write in 2007 at his blog “Raw Thought”:
You feel worthless. You wonder whether it’s worth going on. Everything you think about seems bleak — the things you’ve done, the things you hope to do, the people around you.
Another friend, Cory Doctorow, wrote at the blog Boing Boing, “We have lost someone today who had more work to do — and who made the world a better place.”
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