In Januay, Aaron Swartz, the 26-year-old co-founder of Reddit and Internet entrepreneur, committed suicide. He’d been pursued by the Department of Justice for two years, and had been charged in 2011 for downloading millions of documents from the online database JSTOR, using MIT’s computer network.
Slate’s Justin Peters profiles Swartz: “He was a programmer who resisted the description, a dot-com millionaire who lived in a rented one-room studio. He could be a troublesome collaborator but an effective troubleshooter. He had a talent for making powerful friends, and for driving them away. He had scores of interests, and he indulged them all.”
Swartz grew up in a wealthy suburb of Chicago, a precocious child who could read at age 3 and was building websites before he reached his teens. He launched “The Info Network,” an encyclopedia that anyone could edit, months before Wikipedia launched in 2001.
What drove him throughout his accomplished career was sharing information. He joined a working group that helped develop a version of RSS. He helped launch Creative Commons at the age of 14.
As Peters writes, “When you kill yourself, you forfeit the right to control your own story. At rallies, on message boards, and in media coverage, you will hear that Swartz was felled by depression, or that he got caught in a political battle, or that he was a victim of a vindictive state.” The debate over what led Swartz to hang himself won’t end soon, but Peters sheds light on a young man who accomplished so many things in a short time.