"And very quickly we both realized that this was something that was going to change everything." He immersed himself in numerous websites as a kid, among them one called the Info Network, a user-generated encyclopedia he built in 1999, when he was 12 years old."It was basically Wikipedia, except long before Wikipedia had launched," he would say later."Though he had never spoken publicly about what his own prosecution represented in this conflict, he became in death a symbol of a misguided and overreaching government, one that believed the downloading of academic texts merited more Draconian retributions than any levied against the bankers responsible for the economic collapse."In an age when our frontiers are digital, the criminal system threatens something tangible but incredibly valuable," Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, wrote on aron Swartz was raised in Highland Park, an affluent suburb on Chicago's North Shore, and almost from birth he began to hone the instincts that would come to define him throughout his life: the inner restlessness, the chronic need to dabble in countless projects simultaneously, the desire to organize information, to fix broken systems.To read the Twitter feeds of his friends and followers was to experience the depth of their confusion and disbelief.To pore over the countless blogs that paid tribute to him was to understand how starkly his ambitions differed from so many of his peers: Unlike, say, Mark Zuckerberg, who built an online empire by corralling and monetizing private information, Swartz dedicated himself to limiting the amount of power institutions could wield over individuals.Initially this seemed like one of many frustrating eccentricities he would display over the years – a stubborn refusal to learn to drive, an aversion to washing dishes and a tendency to flake out on plans as if they'd never been made.But when he was 12 he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a bowel disease that triggered episodes of severe gastrointestinal distress, a condition that would embarrass and plague him for the rest of his life.
Two years earlier, he had been arrested for allegedly hacking the servers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to steal millions of files from an online library of academic journals, and the federal government had, in the years since, been unrelenting in its quest to ensure that his punishment would be severe.He taught himself to read at age three, and by elementary school he was building and programming an ATM for a class project."I don't think I have any particular technical skills – I just got a really large head start," he would remark years later, displaying the streak of false modesty that became one of his most dominant traits, one that could charm and exasperate in equal measure.Though he became a thin and sinewy adult, in youth he was doughy around the middle and reluctant to look at himself in mirrors.He had been a finicky eater from a young age – no fruits or vegetables, only the blandest flavors: bowls of rice, macaroni and cheese, french fries.On his blog, Raw Thought, Swartz had gained a cult following of fans of his nuanced, erudite, sometimes stubborn and often hilarious riffs on everything from his crushes on girls to his clashes with colleagues to his philosophical musings. But as the suicide became an international news story, and as the details of his prosecution were released, the swell of grief was overtaken by waves of anger, of bitterness – a collective sense that his actions could not be understood solely as those of a deeply troubled young man."Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy," declared his family in a public statement.Still, when everyone gathered that Wednesday evening after dinner to sit for an impromptu portrait in the wood-paneled cabin, he was game, relaxed, nestling in with the others without complaint. Hackers, Leakers and Activists: The New Political Prisoners At 26 years old, Aaron Swartz had established himself as a singular force bridging the worlds of technology and activism – a young man driven by a restless curiosity and the belief that information was the most valuable of currencies, a form of wealth no one should be deprived of.As a teen programming prodigy, he had helped to develop RSS, the now-ubiquitous tool allowing users to self-syndicate information online, and at 19 he was one of the builders of Reddit, the social news site that was purchased by Condé Nast, which turned Swartz into a millionaire before he could legally order a beer.Wikileaks claimed him as an ally, while Anonymous, the vigilante hacker collective, took over a number of websites, converting them into makeshift shrines. Killed because he was forced into playing a game he could not win."Swartz himself had been among the most eloquent thinkers about the free- culture movement and the rifts it had created between old and new, analog and digital."There's a battle going on right now, a battle to define everything that happens on the Internet in terms of traditional things the law understands," he stated in May 2012, in a keynote speech given at the Freedom to Connect Conference.