"He was brilliant and funny" Lawrence Lessig wrote of his friend and protégé Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide on January 11. "A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying."
The 26-year-old Swartz, who co-developed RSS and Reddit, and was a champion of Internet freedom, was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment last week, shortly before he was to stand trial for stealing thousands of academic documents from an electronic archive in an attempt to make them available for free.
In 2008, Swartz, who was a prolific writer, explored the virtues of free computer programs. "Peer-to-peer software, if we could make it work, would seem to give the best of both worlds," he argued, "the freedom to modify how a program functions on our local computers as well as the ability to share and collaborate with others across the Internet."
That same year, he lamented the end of undercover journalism. "It's unclear if anything will wake news organizations from their slumber," Swartz wrote. "Perhaps someone should go undercover inside them to find out."
And Swartz was not afraid to go inside himself and report on his bouts with depression. "Surely there have been times when you’ve been sad," he wrote in 2007. "Perhaps a loved one has abandoned you or a plan has gone horribly awry. Your face falls. Perhaps you cry. 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. You want to lie in bed and keep the lights off. Depressed mood is like that, only it doesn’t come for any reason and it doesn’t go for any either. Go outside and get some fresh air or cuddle with a loved one and you don’t feel any better, only more upset at being unable to feel the joy that everyone else seems to feel. Everything gets colored by the sadness."