RIP John Perry Barlow, 1947-2018
I met John Perry Barlow in 1999, and I was awestruck: here was the legend whose Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace had profoundly changed my life, making me realize that the nascent internet that I'd dropped out of university to devote my life to could be more than a communications tool: it could be a revolutionary force for good.
Within minutes of meeting Barlow, he'd put me at my ease, with his larger-than-life magnanimity, his whisky-gravel voice, his dry wit, and his endlessly genuine curiosity. When I took at job at EFF a few years later and Barlow became my kinda-sorta boss, I discovered the immense joys (and inarguable frustrations) of working with him: Barlow challenged received wisdom, made you revisit your assumptions and look at problems sideways and upside-down to get the lay of them. I argued with Barlow a lot, and lost more than once, and was always better for it.
In the decades since had the enormous honor and pleasure of becoming Barlow's friend: trekking across the Playa with him at Burning Man, speaking alongside him at conferences on three continents, writing him into a novel, making his Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace the McGuffin of a short story, asking him to write an introduction to one of my books, bringing him to my class for a guest lecture, and, just recently, helping to raise money to defray his medical bills after he became terminally ill.
As EFF's Cindy Cohn -- who introduced me to Barlow -- writes, Barlow has been recently vilified as a naif who failed to foresee the power of the internet to control and censor, to troll and dox, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Barlow wrote the Declaration and co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation precisely because he foresaw those possibilities: he saw that the world would be remade by general-purpose networks tied to general-purpose computers, and that unless we committed ourselves to making that network free, and fair, and open, that it would give the powerful and wicked the power to exert unprecedented, near-total control over our lives.
Today, Barlow is dead, and his vision is vindicated: the risks Barlow foresaw (along with other EFF founders like John Gilmore and Mitch Kapor) are more imminent than ever; the organization that he started and the movement he kicked off has never been more badly needed.
I find it hard to believe that I'll never talk to Barlow again, but I'm sure I'll never stop having dialogs with him in my mind, as I've done so many times over the years. Barlow has a way of taking up residence in your thoughts, and I know he'll never leave mine.
Barlow was sometimes held up as a straw man for a kind of naive techno-utopianism that believed that the Internet could solve all of humanity's problems without causing any more. As someone who spent the past 27 years working with him at EFF, I can say that nothing could be further from the truth. Barlow knew that new technology could create and empower evil as much as it could create and empower good. He made a conscious decision to focus the former: "I knew it’s also true that a good way to invent the future is to predict it. So I predicted Utopia, hoping to give Liberty a running start before the laws of Moore and Metcalfe delivered up what Ed Snowden now correctly calls 'turn-key totalitarianism.'”
Barlow’s lasting legacy is that he devoted his life to making the Internet into “a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth . . . a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.”
John Perry Barlow, Internet Pioneer, 1947-2018 [Cindy Cohn/EFF]
EFF has just posted a job listing for a development director, seeking someone to "take charge of EFF's eleven-person Development Team in their efforts to raise over $13 million each year," starting late 2019 or early 2020.
In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my new Locus column, DRM Broke Its Promise, which recalls the days when digital rights management was pitched to us as a way to enable exciting new markets where we'd all save big by only buying the rights we needed (like the low-cost right to read a book […]
Podcast: A cycle of renewal, broken: How Big Tech and Big Media abuse copyright law to slay competition
In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my essay "A Cycle of Renewal, Broken: How Big Tech and Big Media Abuse Copyright Law to Slay Competition", published today on EFF's Deeplinks; it's the latest in my ongoing series of case-studies of "adversarial interoperability," where new services unseated the dominant companies by finding ways to plug […]
Studies have shown cannabidiol (more popularly known as CBD) to be effective in two main areas: Pain relief and stress relief. Both of those make the non-psychoactive, cannabis-derived compound a natural for topical creams. There’s no shortage of CBD products out there, but here’s eight of our favorites, all specifically designed for dermatological use – […]
If you’re part of the maker community, you know Make:. Though Make: magazine is off the shelves as of this year, the eBooks and resources put out by Maker Media are still a fantastic resource for the new generation of tinkerers, hackers, and robotics geeks. If you’re in that tribe, listen up: they’ve released a […]
Life isn’t getting any less hectic, and pressure cookers are a quick, healthy solution for a growing number of kitchens. But if you thought your Instant Pot was versatile, there’s a major upgrade on the market: The Yedi 9-in-1 Total Package Instant Programmable Pressure Cooker. If you’ve somehow never used a pressure cooker before, try […]