Remember Aaron Swartz


Zach Lipton

Aaron reached out to me online when I was 13 (making him, I think, 14 or so at the time) after I posted online about not being allowed into a Linux conference because of my age. We corresponded sporadically after that, and I soon joined the club, which I’m finding out today was an awfully large club, of people who found inspiration in Aaron’s amazing mind.

I don’t know whether it was difficult for him to do this or not, but he seemed to have no shame in saying “I don’t care who you are or how important the world thinks you are. What I think matters, and I can contribute too.” He didn’t care that 13-year-olds “aren’t supposed to” be emailing Stanford law professors, as though that’s some kind of inevitable law of the universe. At his best, he wasn’t content to leave things to “the experts” and he didn’t let the internal filters and self-doubts that we all feel keep him from action. You could call it arrogance, but it wasn’t malicious or self-promoting as arrogance is wont to be. It was simply pure chutzpah, born of kindness and a genuine desire to help, which he had in droves. He was someone who would see a problem, say, as Sorkin once put it, “I want to be a part of this,” and would throw himself out there to contribute with whatever skills he could. That attitude could, and did, get him into trouble, but it also gave us all a chance to know him and learn from him.

Indeed, I just looked up something Aaron wrote to me as part of a blog comment way back in 2001, and he knew this back then too: “Thankfully, in the hacker community, things are much different. It’s wonderful to know that online (in many communities, at least) folks can ignore so many of those things which stop us in the physical world. And this kindness carries over into the real-world as well.” His kindness and his work proved this to be true for so many of us. He taught me not to let self-doubt, hierarchy, and expectations stand in the way of putting myself out there or getting involved in something because it never seemed to stop him. Thank you Aaron.