Swartz Suicide: Proof Our Sense of Humor Is Fading

Tim Lee: Let's not lock up our unruly geniuses
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 13, 2013 1:56 PM CST
This Dec. 8, 2012 photo provided by ThoughtWorks shows Aaron Swartz, in New York. Swartz, a co-founder of Reddit, hanged himself Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, in New York City.   (AP Photo/ThoughtWorks, Pernille Ironside)
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(Newser) – Aaron Swartz's suicide left many of us grieving the loss of a brilliant Internet prodigy. It also showed that America has begun losing "the sense of humor that has made it the home of the world’s innovators and misfits," writes Tim Lee at the Washington Post. Swartz, just 26 when he died, had already co-authored the RSS specification, helped build Reddit, and thrown himself into political activism. But authorities refused to give him a pass for sneaking into an MIT network closet and plugging into the campus network.

Admittedly, Swartz was up to illegal stuff—skimming millions of articles from the JSTOR database as part of the crusade for Internet freedom and access to information. But what else is new in America? Manhattan Project physicist Richard Feynman liked cracking military safes, and Steve Jobs experimented with Steve Wozniak on a "blue box" that bypassed the phone system to make free calls. "Revolutionary new technologies and ideas don’t come from people with a reverence for following the rules," writes Lee. "It’s a bad idea to lock them up and throw away the key." Meanwhile, AllThingsD reports that Swartz's family and friends are partly pinning his death on MIT and the US Attorney's office, for "intimidation and prosecutorial overreach." (Read more Aaron Swartz stories.)

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