Aaron Swartz: He Inspired Me to Think in Public

Web pioneer and writer Aaron Swartz committed suicide yesterday. He was 26. Cory Doctorow’s obit is excellent, and the last sentence in Larry Lessig’s post is incredibly sad.

Many know Aaron for his breadth of political, legal, and technology interests and accomplishments.

Myself, I think of Aaron in a narrower, more personal sense, even though we weren’t close friends. I think of him as someone who wrote fearlessly and thoughtfully about trying to understand the world around him in his late teenage years. When he began his short lived stint as an undergrad at Stanford, he blogged jaw-droppingly honest minute by minute accounts of his experiences. Sitting in classes, going to parties, talking to people in dorm rooms. It was an extreme example of transparency, of living out loud. Here’s one example; here’s another. (It appears his old archive has been re-organized so it’s hard to find the gems but I’ll dig them out.) He also wrote confidently about books and politics and ideas and movies and whatever else was on his mind.

At the time, I was also a teenager and also getting into the writing thing. He was an age-similar role model. He taught me that one could be young and yet still have a voice in the blogosphere. I saw him grapple with the comments and criticisms on his blog and I learned the value of thinking in public.

All told, I read Aaron’s blog for almost a decade. I last met up with him in 2004 to chat about the pros and cons of dropping out of school, but we’d been in touch sporadically by email and blog comments since then.

In fact, Aaron invited me to connect on LinkedIn just last week. Today, he’s gone.

Aaron was a David Foster Wallace fan. In the weeks after Wallace tragically took his own life, Aaron said he re-read every single word DFW had ever written.

Everything is on fire. Slow fire.

Colin Marshall and Ben In Conversation

Colin Marshall, esteemed radio host and man of arts & letters, sat down with me for an hour do an interview for his new podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture. It was fun to catch up with him and cover a range of topics. Colin’s description of the show is below.

Colin Marshall sits down in San Francisco’s South Beach with entrepreneur, author, blogger, traveler, and learner Ben Casnocha. His latest book, co-written with Reid Hoffman, chairman of LinkedIn, is The Start-Up of You. They discuss the advantages of hanging an IKEA world map on the wall; his ten days of silent meditation and the feeling of enlarged thumbs that resulted; the San Francisco Bay Area’s convergence of Californian spirituality and Californian technological intensity; the three Californias: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and everything else; “NorCal” pride and State of Jefferson stickers; being the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and how that got him involved in technology startups to begin with; how where you physically live now matters both more and less than it used to (and who still lives virtually on Livejournal); how loyalty now extends horizontally to your network rather than vertically to your company, and how your identity now comes before your role as an organizational component; his lifelong habit of reaching out to interesting people, and how it differs from the standard sleaziness of “networking”; his visits to Detroit and Athens, and how those cities may have strained his appreciative thinking muscles; his interest in underrated and underdiscussed places as well as people, such as those in South America; his adoption of “home bases” around the world, be they in San Francisco, Santiago, Zurich, or Tokyo; the pronunciation of Tegucigalpa; the loneliness he sees deep in the eyes of people who declare themselves “nomadic”; the necessity of acting consistently on curiosity, and of cultivating both a highly technical and a highly nontechnical mind; whether moving to a city means moving to randomness; and his sensory-deprivation experience floating in a saltwater pod.

The Fragility of Health

I came down with food poisoning last night. Twice during the night, I got out of bed, went into the bathroom, and threw up.

I bent over the toilet, hands on knees, and did the violent act for 45 seconds.

After the second time, I looked up from the toilet and faced the mirror in my bathroom. My eyes were bloodshot. Face grey. I was shivering all over. In that moment, I felt frail and vulnerable in a way I hadn’t felt for many years.

Today, I’ve been reflecting on how a single piece of bad food, in a matter of hours, could make me go from youthful, energetic, and ready to do anything, anywhere to bedridden, weak, depressed. My physical health is so good most of the time that I take it for granted.

Jimmy V’s classic ESPY speech from 1993, delivered two months before his cancer killed him, talks about cherishing every moment of good health. Obviously, a simple bout of food poisoning is not comparable to life-ending cancer, but his message, which I re-watched tonight, resonated anew. Hopefully it will stick for longer this time.



Blogging will be very light for the next couple months (until June or July, 2011). I will, though, be bookmarking web pages in delicious and occassionally tweeting.

I encourage you to subscribe to this blog by RSS or email, or bookmark the site in your browswer.

Posting will resume with gusto in the (northern hemisphere) summer!

I’m Hiring — Internship Opportunity

I'm hiring a paid intern to help on a few high-impact entrepreneurial and journalistic projects.

Projects will include research on topics similar to those I blog about, some IT / blog infrastructure stuff, help launching a new bricks and motar business, and some online marketing work. This is not an executive assistant job; however, there will be some duller personal tasks that accompany the more stimulating ones.

The ideal candidate probably is under 30 years old; possesses top-notch written communication skills; self-directed and proactive; broadly interested in business and technology; still has a lot to prove. You do not need to be an engineer or programmer but you should be above-average proficient with web technology.

Compensation will include a small cash stipend, a couple round-trip flights to San Francisco from anywhere in America for us to have dinner, and whatever value you place on learning and personal growth. In the past, people I've worked with in this capacity have been exposed to some really interesting people and ideas, and I think the experience accelerated their career. (That's also been the case for me when I've interned for other folks.)

This internship may expand or be terminated at any time, depending on how it's going. At the moment, you should be available for at least five months (starting now) to work at least 5-10 hours a week. Preference given to those who live in California, but you can live and work anywhere in the world, on your own hours. Email [email protected] if you are interested. Thanks!