January 12, 2013

· Sociology · IT

Aaron Swartz took his own life yesterday. He was twenty six. Like many millions of writers and internet users, I use things every day that he had a hand in creating, improving, or catalyzing, whether directly or indirectly, well-known or less so: RSS, Markdown, JSTOR, other things.

Like many thousands of people, I had some contact with him via email, blogs, and twitter over the years. I gave him some data he asked for once. He contributed guest posts to Crooked Timber. He had a terrific grasp of sociology, by the way, and a far better facility with it than many people who think they have a “sociological imagination”. He pushed something my way once that I stupidly failed to take advantage of. I made him laugh a few times.

Unlike some people, I was not his friend, or confidant, or co-worker, or family. To them, I can only say I am sorry. He was so obviously a remarkable man, even at a distance. I wish the U.S. government had not hounded him on such an empty pretext. I wish he had found some other way to cope with his illness.

Bímid buan ar buairt gach ló
Ag caoi go cruaidh ’s ag tuar na ndeor
Mar scaoileadh uainn an buachaill beo

I am sorry he is gone.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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