For your weekend reading, Larissa MacFarquhar’s New Yorker profile of programmer and Internet activist Aaron Swartz, “Requiem for a Dream.” Much has been written about Swartz in the wake of his January suicide and you might well — and understandably so — be Swartz-ed out. That said, this piece illustrates him not as martyr figure or genius figure or any other kind of figure, but as a complicated, brilliant and difficult human being. MacFarquhar uses block quotes from the people closest to him and juxtaposes the quotes against one another to illuminating effect. This paragraph in particular struck me. It articulates so well the nature of writing online and what effect that can have on readers. I’ve been thinking about it all week:
Prose creates a strong illusion of presence—so strong that it is difficult to destroy it. It is hard to remember that you are reading and not hearing. The illusion is stronger when the prose is online, partly because you are aware that it might be altered or redacted at any moment—the writer may be online, too, as you read it—and partly because the Internet has been around for such a short time that we implicitly assume (as we do not with a book) that the writer of a blog post is alive.
Image of Aaron Swartz via John-Brown/Flickr
Aaron Swartz’s suicide was a tragic bookend to a deeply amazing life, and this New Yorker article is appropriately shot through with complexity and feeling, relying in large part on varying accounts from Swartz’s friends, and from his own blog. A most worthy addendum to this man’s atypical life.