My friend Will Morrell, brilliant and sardonic, was the first person I ever knew to make his living close to the machine. A few years after we got out of college, he got a job in New York designing DSP chips for pinball machines, and crashed with me for a couple of months. During his stay, he convinced me I could dump my theater career in favor of finding a way to make my living on the internet. That turned out to be one of the most important conversations of my life, but I’ll never be able to thank him properly. He killed himself a few years ago.
I teach at NYU, where a quartet of students recently decided the world needed a privacy-respecting alternative to Facebook. The result, Diaspora, was the longest of long shots, a project that shouldn’t have a chance in hell of working, but it’s turned into an interesting experiement, largely because of Ilya Zhitomirskiy, whose Wikipedia page calls him “the most idealistic and privacy-conscious member of the group.” Ilya killed himself a little over a year ago.
Then there’s Aaron Swartz.
Aaron’s suicide has stirred the kind of political anger he cared about — as Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman said in her heart-wrenching and beautiful memorial, Aaron would have loved to be here — and those of us who care about the things Aaron cared about have to work harder to support open culture and the free flow of information, now that he’s not with us.
But there’s something else we need to do. We need to take care of the people in our community who are depressed.
Suicide is not hard to understand, not intellectually anyway. It is, as Jeff Atwood says, the ultimate in ragequitting. But for most of us, it is hard to understand emotionally.
Most of us will never commit suicide no matter how bad things get. But a few will.
Perhaps learning more, watching more and helping more can be of help.