Life ends for all of us, but sometimes, it just ends entirely too soon. A young genius died this week when Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit.com, died of an apparent suicide. The death was confirmed on several sites and also by his attorney.
“The tragic and heartbreaking information you received is, regrettably, true,” confirmed Swartz’ attorney, Elliot R. Peters of Kecker and Van Nest, in an email to The Tech.
Swartz has been big on technology for most of his life, co-founding an early version of RSS at the age of 14. He later went on to found Infogami, which was the precursor to the multi-billion dollar company, Reddit.com. Swartz has been a digital activist for years, and was arrested for his efforts to make academic journals available to the public free of charge.
It appeared that Swartz may have suffered from a serious form of depression, as he would sometimes let the public know that his moods were swinging in uncontrollable ways.
Swartz hinted at depression in the past. In a 2007 speech, he discussed his time at Reddit, including the first weeks after its purchase by Conde Nast:
We all flew out to San Francisco and begun working at the offices of Wired News (we were purchased by Condé Nast, a big publishing company which owns Wired, along with many other magazines).
I was miserable. I couldn’t stand San Francisco. I couldn’t stand office life. I couldn’t stand Wired. I took a long Christmas vacation. I got sick. I thought of suicide. I ran from the police. And when I got back on Monday morning, I was asked to resign.
In a separate blog post from that year, Swartz discussed his depression in more detail, writing:
Your face falls. Perhaps you cry. You feel worthless. You wonder whether it’s worth going on. Everything you think about seems bleak – the things you’ve done, the things you hope to do, the people around you. You want to lie in bed and keep the lights off. Depressed mood is like that, only it doesn’t come for any reason and it doesn’t go for any either. Go outside and get some fresh air or cuddle with a loved one and you don’t feel any better, only more upset at being unable to feel the joy that everyone else seems to feel. Everything gets colored by the sadness.
At best, you tell yourself that your thinking is irrational, that it is simply a mood disorder, that you should get on with your life. But sometimes that is worse. You feel as if streaks of pain are running through your head, you thrash your body, you search for some escape but find none.