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Journalist and author Rick Perlstein got an offer out of the blue, back in 2005. A young man named Aaron Swartz contacted him and offered to build him a website for free.
The two ultimately became friends. Swartz would read through Perlstein’s material and send him reading lists.
After learning of Swartz’s suicide last week, Perlstein wrote a remembrance of his friend in The Nation, describing his initial thought when Swartz made the offer – that he must be a “loser” with “nothing better to do” if he was offering a free website:
How long was it before I learned instead that he actually was a ball of pure coruscation, the guy who had just about invented something called an “RSS feed” and a moral philosopher and public-intellectual-without-portfolio and tireless activist and makeshift Internet-era self-help guru and self-employed archivist and what his deeply inadequate New York Times obituary called “an unwavering crusader to make that information free of charge”—and, oh yes, how long was it after I heard from him that I learned that he was, what, 20 years old?
Swartz was a computer genius, an activist and, at the time of his suicide, a young man awaiting trial.