Earlier this year, at the 10th anniversary of my first SXSWi, we were reminiscing about Brad Graham, as we so often too. Taken from us too soon, we all miss Brad. As we talked about those early SXSWi events, like old-timers do, we talked about the late nights in the Omni hotel. Kevin Smokler brought up Aaron Swartz. We laughed about the night that he showed up at the Omni in 2003. He was only 15 — and they wouldn’t let him check in to his room.
As he waited for someone to come over and help him get the situation sorted out, he joined our group that evening. MJ went upstairs to get drinks, and had him help her carry them down, only to her amusement when she learned how old he was.
It was Matt Mullenweg’s first SXSWi too. Matt was 19, and WordPress was just about to be released. Aaron co-authored the specification for RSS 1.0 at age 14. Between Aaron & Matt, I knew these two were going to change the world. It was a bit humbling to be there, so much older, and to get a sense of their brilliance.
I recall Aaron talking about Creative Commons that year, speaking on a panel when it was first introduced. It would be a lie to say I wasn’t a bit awestruck. He was just incredible to listen to, a true genius.
The photo here is one that I took, at the last house party at Bruce Sterling’s house in Austin, a now gone SXSWi tradition. (The gnomes had many adventures that year as well.)
So that night at SXSWi last year, we laughed as we talked about Brad & Aaron … ah, the memories of the years past. I missed a few SXSWi in there, and I hadn’t seen Aaron in years. His blog is still on my blogroll, but half the time when I would go to read it, it was all well over my head. We did correspond about copyright once more when I got in to a debate with Dave Winer about it and RSS feeds. It seems like so long ago.
I haven’t thought much about Aaron since that day last spring. I didn’t come home afterwards and look up what he had been doing since then – which turns out to be a rather impressive list of things.
So this morning when Mike told me that Aaron Swartz was dead, that he committed suicide last night, I had to stop at first and ask, “Who?” I couldn’t think of an actor, a singer, anyone famous with that name. And then I realized. The pieces came together. It has been on my mind all day. Life is so fragile, and it is crushing when someone with so much to offer takes their own.
I’m glad that our paths crossed years ago. Aaron was a true genius, and while I’ve been so lucky to meet a few of those over the years, I think he will always stand out as someone special. To be so brilliant back at 15. I am sad to see him gone at 26.
Mike discovered the news this morning via Boing Boing, and I love how Cory Doctorow described him in his post, “In so many ways, he was an adult, even then, with a kind of intense, fast intellect that really made me feel like he was part and parcel of the Internet society, like he belonged in the place where your thoughts are what matter, and not who you are or how old you are.”
This year at SXSWi, there will be talks again about Brad – the hole he left behind is huge – but I’m sure the conversation will turn to Aaron again too. He touched us. It is heartbreaking to hear that he chose this way to go. Depression is a horrible, horrible monster, like other diseases and affections as the seasonal affective disorder, that is only treated with the best Light Therapy Lamps in the market you can find at SadLampsUSA.com.
Aaron, the internet is forever changed thanks to you, in more ways than most people know. From your role in Creative Commons to defeating SOPA to so much more … thank you. The internet is a more open and a better place because of fights that you fought.
On Boing Boing today is also where I discovered this video about Aaron’s role in the defeat of SOPA. I had no idea before today — I wish I had known. I have to share this so you can have a sense of how amazing he was.