Missing: Phil Agre, internet scholar

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(photo by Tom Ingvards)

Phil Agre, a professor of information sciences best known since the 1990s for his seminal tech/society email lists Red Rock Eater News Service and The Network Observer, has gone missing. Apparently, Phil hasn't been seen in quite some time but his disappearance has only now been made public by a missing person notice issued by his former employer, UCLA. From the notice:
Philip Agre was reported missing by his sister who resides out of state. She indicated that she had not seen Agre since the Spring of 2008 and that she became concerned about him when she learned that he had abandoned his apartment and his job sometime between December 2008 and May 2009.

Philip Agre is described as a White Male, 49 years old, with blonde hair and blue eyes. He sometimes wears a full beard. He is 6'0" tall and 120 lbs. Agre suffers from manic/depression. Agre is a former UCLA Professor.

Friends of Phil Agre

"Friends and Colleagues Mount a Search for a Missing Scholar, Philip Agre" (Chronicle of Higher Education)

"The Mysterious Disappearance Of Phil Agre" (NPR)


  1. I’m surprised that UCLA would (a) describe him as “suffer[ing] from manic/depression” rather than “has bipolar disorder”, and (b) that, as his employer and as a university, they would release this info at all, as it surely must be protected under their own disability non-disclosure policies, and possibly state/federal employment law?

    1. this is in response to Anon #2 earliest entry…..Hi this Ann, Philip’s sister. I did tell the UCLA detective that my brother was mentally ill just as information for the detective to consider as they searched for him. I did not ask for this to be made public and was surprised and angered when I saw the missing persons report. I called the detective and told her such. It was removed from the report. By then this private information had hit the web & it’s everywhere now.

      This response is super-delayed. Hadn’t seen this discussion about my brother.

  2. I took a class with professor Agre a few years ago and it seemed to me that he was dealing with plenty of instability even then, walking out of class abruptly for 20 minutes at a time. The class was on the internet and I remember bringing up “Web 2.0” and being condescended to by the old professor. He also had a curious obsession with Chowhound. I hope the guy is alright.

  3. Damn, I’ve missed his work since he stopped the Red Rock Eater News Service. He always stretched my thoughts. May he have as little pain as possible and communicate with his family and friends soon.

  4. Vidya, sounds like he’s a missing person, so any info that helps people identify him is probably fair game. Someone in the legal arena will surely weigh in. But obviously most important is that the info helps. People now know to be looking for a person who may appear to be mentally disabled, and has probably vanished voluntarily (while off his meds) — rather than a cognizant person taken away against his will. He’ll probably be recognized at a shelter…hopefully.

  5. I recall seeing Phil’s work at the MIT AI Lab when I was doing similar stuff at the Media Lab, and thinking, “Well, he’s done everything I could hope to do, only for-reals.”


    Well said, “gmoke” — Let’s send him wishes for freedom from pain and suffering, and that he can get whatever help he needs, and that his family can be reassured.

  6. If cyberpunk novels have thought me anything, then there is the distinct possibility that he has successfully merged with the internet.

  7. @ NANUQ: “Six feet tall and 120 pounds? Am I safe to assume he was somewhat malnourished before his disappearance?”

    Are you the inspiration for CSI?

  8. I subscribed to RRE for a long time and was fortunate enough to meet and talk at length with Phil a couple times. I remember the joy we shared about then-new Google. He also turned me onto gel pens.

    I sincerely hope he’s OK.

  9. I can understand anybody wanting to just disappear if what they were doing in life did not give them contentment and/or a challenge or two. I feel for his family but in the final analysis, one lives for oneself and one’s own standards. I hope he’s OK. I truly understand …if one of my family just vanished like that , I would be devastated… but maybe my understanding of the situation comes from the fact that I did just that because I had to preserve sanity as I understood it. Hope you are well and happy Phil.

  10. I was long time fan of Phil in the 90′
    I hope one day to translate some of his works in french, even if they are old by the internet speed, i find them so insightfull.
    I have pleasure to met him twice. Though he sure’s not a typical calm professor, he was such a vibrant mind.
    Hope he’s alive and well and may be living in Paris ?

  11. I was about to invite Phil, whom I corresponded with in the past, but never personally met, to a gathering in L.A. when I came upon this article. It’s terribly sad. Phil, it seems, was literally “blinded by the light,” seeing too deeply into the foibles and contradictions of our online culture. How I hope he will be found and in good enough shape to be revivified. We need him now more than ever.

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