ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

My Buddy Aaron —

My buddy Aaron Swartz hung himself on Friday.


Try to imagine a ball of energy, whipping around, looking for somewhere to strike, somewhere to hit, somewhere to find a stopping point or grand finale. Ultimately, just coming to a standstill because there’s just no real place to end up – a miserable standstill.

That’s me.

Us high-profile techie types are very good at jibber-jabber; fantastically good at it – that’s why you might hear of us in the first place. We’re good at bloviating paragraph after paragraph of warm syrupy context-aware verbiage into your screen to make you feel good an articulate person, out there, says things you like.

It will hopefully not be too much of a shock to you to know that some of your heroes don’t like each other too much. Hate, actually. But all-out fights don’t frequently happen because it rattles the audience a bit too much to see the knives come out not after some terrible adversary, but two people who they thought were compatriots on the same side.

Some of those heroes of yours, who I do not particularly like, have already written long things about Aaron. Most generally accurate from their perspective, a few are gleefully getting in the last word, a few are just demonstrating the aforementioned jibber-jabber proficiency.

So, if you didn’t know who Aaron Swartz was, I guarantee you could get a very large amount of information about him online. He did a lot of stuff. He did it very, very young and he died when he was 26, which is a good number to keep in the back of your head when you read how much he did. I don’t have the strength or energy to type “Aaron Swartz” into a search engine for you. If you don’t know him, go look at it.

We met because when I was Mr. Wikipedia Critic, Aaron did a simple programming process to evaluate the accuracy of a claim by Jimbo “Gasbag” Wales. Showing up a pompous doof with actual numbers and pushing those out got my attention, and Aaron and I connected; this was an asshole I could get behind. By this time, of course, he was an old hand at these sorts of things and I was on my own trajectory. But we got along. I followed his tricks and journeys whenever they got in my headlights, which was infrequently, due to my mostly making documentaries. I had no idea he was just 20.

When the indictment silliness came down, I got in on trying to be a voice of “pshaw” with him, providing what amount of support and perspective I could. Unfortunately, I missed his writings about being depressed or I’d have gotten right in there.

I lost a month at 21. Something hit me during my senior year in college. I literally did not leave my apartment for a month; I just lay there, occasionally used a BBS or two, mostly slept. I didn’t know why and when I returned to my classes I’d actually forgotten where half of them were held. Some of the teachers let me by, thankfully, but others held firm and I ended up taking a course in that summer to finally graduate. I can’t for the life of me tell you why that happened. But it did.

I had a half-hearted suicide attempt at 24. Quarter-hearted, really. It was just something to do when I was feeling particularly unhappy about where my life was. Obviously it didn’t take and I’m still around, fuckers. (For the curious, method: exposure to cold).

So I’d probably have tuned my message a bit more. His Skype name turned green a bunch of times and I said hello and told him I’d bake a cake for him with a file in it. I’ve had a couple young friends go to jail for a while due to computer stuff – it was rough but they’re back, maybe less likely to visit The Pirate Bay these days.

But my message for him was one of love and support, to ride it out, to know the wheels of the courts grind slow and fine and THAT’s how you get sad. I said these exact words to him and I know it because I still have our skype chats. Here’s the last of them.

[9/13/2012 11:54:04 AM] Aaron Swartz: HAPPY BIRTHDAY and many more YOU LOOK GOOD IN A WHITE SUIT and have developed an interesting alternative to the period
[9/13/2012 11:56:45 AM] Jason Scott: And you’re not in download jail yet! And that’s a big deal to me and one of the real presents.
[9/13/2012 11:58:15 AM] Jason Scott: So hugs to you
[9/13/2012 11:59:38 AM] Aaron Swartz: thanks. here’s hoping that’s true next year too
[9/13/2012 12:00:59 PM] Jason Scott: the court system is a screeching wheel grinding so slow and miserable that you don’t notice how the high pitch was there for a year when it stops where it does
[9/13/2012 12:02:09 PM] Jason Scott: I’ve been watching. And if you do get a jumpsuit in min sec I’ll drive out and visit often
[9/13/2012 12:02:49 PM] Jason Scott: You’re never alone!
[9/13/2012 12:12:51 PM] Aaron Swartz: Thanks, man. Much love.
[9/18/2012 1:34:04 PM] Jason Scott: Thick and thin, thick and thin. Let me know if I’m needed.
[10/23/2012 1:47:39 PM] Jason Scott: <3
[1/12/2013 9:47:24 AM] Jason Scott: Why?

My sadness at 21 and 24 is compounded when I have the rest of my life so far to look at – I joined Psygnosis, a dream come true, at 25. I started at 28. BBS Documentary filmed from 30-35. GET LAMP from 36-40. Wikipedia asshole critic at 32. Archive Team at 39. All these things I’d have missed.

So right now, I’m mostly sad – sad that Aaron played such a beautiful melody for the first third of his life, and won’t provide the harmonies for the rest.

But I’ll say one thing:

Yes, as mentioned, a lot of people now talking about Aaron are people I don’t like. But Aaron, you see…. Aaron treated us like a RAID setup – he saw past all our flaws and inconsistencies and brought out the best of what we were offering. For me, he pinged me about my warrior spirit and ways to make a difference and what was going wrong out there. For others, he found other qualities to pull from. We all had issues, but he just worked on things to make things better.

So while I have no idea, short of a to-be-discovered directive from him, of what he really might have wanted from me from this point on, I know what it’s going to be.

To persist. And to fight. And to remember.


Categorised as: computer history

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  1. kevix says:

    <3. Cool that you worked with the folks who made one of the 1st? game I bought as a kid, Lemmings and of your mentioning your struggles. As ever, awesome. Hopefully, 1,000,000 hackers will be born to join the fight that Aaron was working on, that we all are now working on. 🙁

  2. Rick A. says:

    Jason, I am very sorry for the loss of your friend.

  3. Thank you. The image of the RAID setup is actually quite beautiful and poignant for me. As is this entire post. It brings fresh grief and fresh comfort. Such is the way of this world. I hope the next world is not so tearing a place.

    This post really does help.Thank you.

  4. iPadCary says:

    Jason, I just finished listening to you on “Off The Hook” — a radioshow I’ve listened to regularly since 1988 — and you did your usual fantastic job.

    I wanted to attend Aaron’s memorial service but I just couldn’t get away from my job: adding to that irony is the fact that I work in the same neighborhood that the Cooper Union’s in.

    Rest peacefully, Aaron.

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