Sunday, January 13, 2013

I've had a few hits for Aaron Swartz. My two mentions of him are here and here.

The federal charges were vindictive and corrupt, but he should have fought. He had a lot of friends, and he wasn't going to end up waterboarded in Guantanamo. He left behind family, friends, even a lover. He was a lonely isolato: asocial but needy, bright, brittle, blindly arrogant, but forever wanting to help.

I'm more annoyed by the celebration of geekdom than I am by geeks. If animals differ from computers, as machines who operate through sensory response and feedback and not only calculation, then autistic intelligence is an oxymoron [too simple and too cruel]. Objectivity is a myth; it's more than a simple mistake to make it a fetish.

Rick Perlstein
I remember a creature who seemed at first almost to be made up of pure data, disembodied—a millionaire, I had to have guessed, given his early success building a company sold to Condé Nast, but one who seemed to live on other people’s couches. (Am I misremembering that someone told me he crashed in his apartment for a while, curling up to sleep under a sink?)

Only slowly, it seems, did he come to learn that he possessed a body. This is my favorite thing he wrote: about the day “I looked up and realized I couldn’t read the street sign. I definitely used to be able to read that sign, but there it was, big and bright and green along the highway, and all I could make out was a blur. I had gone blind.” Legally blind, it turned out; and then when he got contact lenses, he gave us an account of what it felt like to leave Plato’s cave: “I had no idea the world really looked like this, with such infinite clarity. It looks like a modernist photo or a hyperreal film, everything in focus everywhere. Everyone kept saying ‘oh, do you see the leaves now?’ but the first thing I saw was not the leaves but the people. People, individuated, each with brilliant faces and expressions at gaits, the sun streaming down upon them. I couldn’t help but smile. It’s much harder being a misanthrope when you can see people’s faces.”

This man is dead now.

...I remember always thinking that he always seemed too sensitive for this world we happen to live in, and I remember him working so mightily, so heroically, to try to bend the world into a place more hospitable to people like him, which also means hospitable to people like us. I like what the blogger Lambert Strether wrote on my Facebook page (in Aaron’s memory, friend me!): “Our society should be selecting for the Aaron Swartz’s of this world. Instead, generous and ethical behavior, especially when combined with technical brilliance, turns out to be maladaptive, indeed lethal. If Swartz had been Wall Street’s youngest investment banker, he would be alive today.”
Our society should be "selecting" for people like Swartz. The unknowing use of the language of fascism.

Corey Doctorow
In so many ways, he was an adult, even then, with a kind of intense, fast intellect that really made me feel like he was part and parcel of the Internet society, like he belonged in the place where your thoughts are what matter, and not who you are or how old you are.

But he was also unmistakably a kid then, too. He would only eat white food.
And everything his friends found otherworldly and charming made it easier for the Feds to break him. He was coddled when he should have been forced to grow up.

Earlier: on Lessig;  on other examples of the fondness for fascist tropes;  the tag, Futurism and Data Culture; most recently, on a fondness knowingly and not, for fascism itself.
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The tech geek as Holly Golightly connects also to the early popularity of Belle de Jour, who when she started wrote from the fragile sensitivity that courted obliterating sensation, if in a different sense than that romanticized above.

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