Legends about a man in the Internet Hall of Fame

Around this time, every year, I wait for a mother to profess her dead son’s love. As she did on January 11, in a tweet: “10 years without this face, without this voice, without this mind, without this love, without this light.” I find the pathos of grief and their honest cliches more interesting than the prose of good writers, which is a class of actor. Perhaps the origin of human language was in grief. Some years, Susan Schwartz’s message is shorter. “9 years. 9 years,” she tweeted last year. “Incredibly, it’s been 8 years. RIP my beloved son,” she wrote beforehand. A mother does not need an anniversary to remember her son. So, “6 years, 2 months. RIP baby.” Her messages are always accompanied by a picture of a smiling young man, or a picture from when he was a child.

It’s Aaron Schwartz, a programming prodigy. When he was 14, he worked on an early version of Really Simple Syndication, known as an RSS feed. At the age of 15, he helped develop the Creative Commons license, a way to make copyrighted material free. At 19, he’s among the founding figures of Reddit. Eventually, he became an activist and fought for a cause that seemed noble 10 years ago but may not have the same meaning today: “Free Internet”. He hanged himself in Brooklyn on January 11, 2013. He was 26 years old.

After making a small fortune when his startup was merged into Reddit, and Reddit was subsequently sold, he got into activism, mainly to make information free. He hacked into MIT’s servers and stole a large number of academic papers from a journal that was behind a paywall, possibly to make them more accessible to the public. He was arrested and faced more serious charges than he could have imagined. It seems that he does not intend to be a martyr. But he refused an offer to plead guilty, which would have carried a maximum prison sentence of six months. At the time of his suicide, in his Brooklyn apartment, he faced 35 years in prison, apart from financial ruin.

Many believe that MIT and the US federal government overreacted to a symbolic boy’s act of defiance of capitalism. Ten years after his death, his status as a preeminent martyr on the Internet is unquestioned. However, the truth is perhaps more unremarkable than the legends surrounding the hero. After each suicide, people try to find reasons that tend to align with their sorrows, aspirations, and grief.

Schwartz was an activist, but by the time he died, he had outgrown the murky space of internet freedom. The network itself is becoming complex. By 2013, it’s starting to look like the world, and nobody’s fighting to keep anything in the real world “free.”

As in the case of many successful activists, Schwartz had some circumstances that made normal life and its ordinary joys difficult. He had diet problems, an extreme sensitivity to normal experiences, ulcerative colitis, and possibly other concerns. A few weeks after his death, Larissa Macfarquhar wrote about him in The New Yorker magazine. This part struck me: “His girlfriend Taryn was always dealing with cab drivers, with waitresses. He hated feeling like he was in a position of power over someone, and he hated asking for help.”

Schwartz once wrote on his blog: “When I go into a library and see the librarian at her desk reading, I’m afraid to interrupt her, even though she sits there specifically to be interrupted, even though being interrupted for reasons like this by people like me is her job.” in particular.”

MacFarquhar wrote, “This was no simple matter of humility. Your possession of power over others made you something he despised. Being chief was not merely immoral; chiefs were idiots.”

He tried to work for a company but didn’t survive long.

In an interview on Reddit, the interviewer asked Schwartz, “Do you work for Reddit as a full-time programmer?”

Schwartz: “No, I left Reddit several months ago.”

Interviewer: Why did you leave?

Schwartz: “My boss asked me to.”

Interviewer: Can you explain what happened?

Schwartz then gives a vague answer about vacationing in Europe and returning to work in the US where he is surprised to be fired. But what happened when he was in Europe ulcerative colitis broke out. He didn’t tell anyone. This condition can trigger suicidal thoughts. When his Reddit boss checked his blog, he found a short account about a character named Aaron who got fired and then committed suicide. He was fired, in real life, a few days after this episode.

In a blog post he wrote in 2005, he said he quit computer programming and studied sociology because “I want to save the world.”

Someone else, closer to home, had done something similar. A student of microbiology, Rohith Vimula turned to sociology because, he said, he wanted to make the world a better place. He also killed himself, and was hanged. On January 17, six days after the third anniversary of Schwartz’s death.

Sociology is a strange field for those who want to save the world. One of the fathers of sociology is Auguste Comte, who invented and wore clothes that only had buttons in the back so he could not put them on unaided, requiring another person to be present just to get dressed. What good can come from such minds?

The hidden darkness in some thoughts endures the way only darkness can afflict, and afflicts young men, who revel in their anguish, seeking some glorious cause to suspend their unreasonable anguish.

Manu Joseph is a journalist, novelist and creator of the Netflix series ‘Decoupled’

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