Aaron Swartz helped design the structure of the internet as we know it, and is now another victim of suicide.
Famous computer expert and information activist Aaron Swartz is dead, having apparently hanged himself in his apartment, where his body was found yesterday.
At 14, Swartz helped create RSS, one of the basic protocols we use to read things on the internet. At 24, he downloaded massive amounts of data from JSTOR, for which he was criminally prosecuted. And at 26, he apparently committed suicide.
JSTOR is the information repository of thousands of academic and technical journals, the trade publications of the professionally smart. Its archives are a vast trove of high-level information and analysis on everything from pulsars to the plays of Thomas Kyd. Swartz believed that that information should be freely available for the good of humanity, and he worked to make that happen. Those who like to keep knowledge exclusive and expensive wanted him put away for 35 years for that.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you that the previous paragraph is why he killed himself. It probably didn’t help much, but the fact is Swartz had written and spoken publicly about battling depression and suicidal ideation. He died of a disease we already know he had, one many people share, and one where men’s survival rate is lower than women’s by a factor of four.
Some people, mostly folks who support his activist aims, are framing Swartz’s death as a victory for the evil forces of informational repression. It’s no such thing. He didn’t die because he lost a battle with the Feds, he died because he lost a battle with suicidal depression. As too many people do.
To anyone reading this, but especially the men: if you are thinking of killing yourself, talk to someone. It is the hardest thing in the world to ask for help, but it is also the best and most reliable treatment for the problem you are suffering from. We can no more afford to lose your mind and contributions than we could afford to lose Aaron Swartz’s.