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He was funny

It was in the main room of CCC in 2006, and Aaron and Peter and I had just had a wide-ranging discussion on Wikipedia’s WP:AUTO guidance that people shouldn’t edit their own Wikipedia pages. For pernickety rule-followers with bad faith motives, it was trivially circumventable, of course: one could simply enter a pact to edit one another’s Wikipedia pages. We tried to work out ways to improve it, drill down into how it had arisen, eke out what it meant as a rule about Wikipedia and systems like it. How it could be gamed; how its spirit could be better defended.

Somehow, though, in middle of that deep discussion, we ended up editing each other’s wikipedia pages. In an impromptu pact, we edited each other to death. Aaron, Wikipedia suddenly noted, sadly died in an elephant stampede. I’d died years ago, apparently, but no-one had noticed until now.

Both entries were swiftly reverted, of course, with the long-suffering tolerance of Wikipedia’s guardians. Giggling with the transgression, we celebrated our return to life. At the time, I confessed to a momentary fear that as he edited my page, I might suddenly vanish.

Last night, I checked Twitter one last time, and caught people’s early elliptical references to Aaron. Panicking, guessing already, I jumped out of bed and searched for his name. His Wikipedia snippet came up first, with a new date where I had edited the old.

Almost everyone who has spoken about Aaron has spoken about his genius, his extraordinary impact, his youth, his depression and his troubles. I want to just say, very briefly, what Aaron would have wanted me to say, which was he was also very very funny.

He never had the mock seriousness one associatiates with precocious children. He was a child prodigy who understood the ridiculousness of being a child prodigy. It was one of the reasons why he seemed so grown-up.

Like many of us, being funny was how Aaron got to be a kid again. He took on so many responsibilities, and he seemed often so unable to shrug them off. Sometimes he could though, and when he did, he would laugh so contagiously, and be so funny. When Ada came along, he played with her a lot, and delighted in being able to just riff with her on crazy, silly stories. Accustomed to being the youngest person in the room, he loved seeing a new generation emerging, perhaps a generation that gave him more hope than the ones he’d seen through so effectively.

When I heard, I went offline, as Aaron had done once. I knew, like Quinn knew, that the Internet was about to mourn his passing, and that it was more than I could take. Going online briefly now, every page I open has his name on it. Every tweet is someone’s memory of his help, his love, his fears.

Aaron’s art was an amazing ability to focus on the truly important. When he left, just as when Len left, he left an obligation on the rest of us to keep what each of us have of him, and put it to good use. Between us, I believe we still have a massively parallel, distributed version of Aaron, one unique part of his life shared with each of us alone. The part I’ll remember for us is just how funny he was, and how serious change sometimes requires a light touch, and a sense of the absurd.

But not now. Nothing’s funny right now. Now I have to go tell Ada. It feels like asking her to grow up too fast. And that seems such a crazy legacy for Aaron to have left any of us.

(Update: We talked.  Ada cried, then we hugged, then Ada suggested we have a goodbye party, with ice-cream and sprinkles and a movie, and make a board where we could pin all our memories. We laughed at funny he was. Aaron taught her so well.)

 

15 Responses to “He was funny”

  1. An extraordinary hacker and activist » Nathan and his Open Ideals Says:

    [...] From danny: [...]

  2. Aaron Swartz: Persecuted Genius | Echoes of Eternity Says:

    [...] Aaron co-founded Reddit, created RSS and was deeply involved in opposition to attempts to SOPA and PIPA, the internet regulation and surveillance bills. He founded demandprogress.org to combat internet censorship, and was a visionary who I would have loved tow work with. Not only that, he was funny. [...]

  3. Ruth Says:

    I’m so sorry. Heartbreaking.

  4. elly Says:

    thank you for posting this, danny. i found this sentiment: “Between us, I believe we still have a massively parallel, distributed version of Aaron, one unique part of his life shared with each of us alone” a soothing one. my heart goes out to you & ada and all of aaron’s friends and family.

  5. Ws Says:

    Aron was one of victims of this savage lawyers regime. Tom Ball, the Vietnam veteran who burned himself to death in front of New Hamshire courthouse was another spectacular case. Beyond that around 13 million Americans arrested per year according to justice department bureau of statistics, who cannot speak for themselves, an order of magnitude larger number than any other country, per nationmaster stats. Americans should look at what people of other nations have done when found themselves enslaved by self appointed self serving savage regime. There is no point to invent a wheel again: there are volumes of gained experience and prudent causes of actions out there to achieve goals while minimizing chance of failure.

  6. Evan Prodromou Says:

    Danny, thanks so much for this.

    I have to ask: is there something wrong in our community? Len, Ilya, and Aaron have all died of suicide in the last 18 months. I feel like I’m getting my third DUI — like we’re making some obvious mistake over and over that we should have learned from the first time.

    Is it reductive of each tragedy to draw lines between them? Or is it reckless blindness to ignore a pattern?

    Is there something we can do?

  7. danny Says:

    danah and I have talked about this a lot. I think it is partly being a product of a new system that creates fame and high levels of individual responsibility without fortune, or the social tools to protect ourselves. It’s not just a geek thing, the same thing is hitting youtube celebrities or the exposed sudden heroes of disasters. I know she was looking to see how Hollywood and entertainment industry deals with it, if only because a) they clearly have a problem with similar exposure, and b) they’ve been around a long time.

  8. In the Wake of Aaron Swartz's Death, Let's Fix Draconian Computer Crime Law | Electronic Frontier Foundation Says:

    [...] Danny O'Brien [...]

  9. In the Wake of Aaron Swartz's Death, Let's Fix Draconian Computer Crime Law | americanpeacenik.com Says:

    [...] Danny O’Brien [...]

  10. Babs Says:

    Sorry

  11. processing the loss of Aaron Swartz « Just Reform Says:

    [...] who were all in various states of disarray. I watched as many of them poured out theirhearts on their blogs, a practice we’ve all been doing for over a decade. And yet, I couldn’t find the [...]

  12. Alicia Says:

    Aaron Swartz:….A Brilliant Mind, so Full of Life, so Young, so much to Offer to Humanity….and is now Silenced. ….One has to wonder: Are we as a Global Society loosing our Humanity?…God help us all.

  13. Aaron Swartz: The Cost of Free Information | Article 3 Says:

    [...] Danny O’Brien [...]

  14. An honest Blog about an prodigious, exceptional, genuine perhaps a little anachronistic Human person. I wish, we captured him and protected his liberties. Or high fived those assholes with a chair- who fear change and Freedom of information. Cheers for be Says:

    [...] who were all in various states of disarray. I watched as many of them poured out theirhearts on their blogs, a practice we’ve all been doing for over a decade. And yet, I couldn’t find the [...]

  15. …pickhits…» Blog Archive » Bookmarks for January 12th through January 19th Says:

    [...] He was funny – Danny O'Brien on aaronsw and discovery and humor. [...]

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

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