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]
The Copyright Office is spending the year deciding technology's future, but the future doesn't get a seat at the table
Every three years, the US Copyright Office creates temporary exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's ban on breaking DRM, provided that people can show that they've been prevented from doing something customary and legitimate with their own property.
Since 1998, using your own property has required regulatory permission and the ability to make your own jailbreaking tools from scratch
In Did Congress Really Expect Us to Whittle Our Own Personal Jailbreaking Tools? -- a new post on EFF's Deeplinks blog -- I describe the bizarre, unfair and increasingly salient US Copyright Office DMCA exemptions process, which is underway right now.
Deepfakes that hurt people are already illegal, so let's stop trying to rush out ill-considered legislation
Deepfakes -- videos with incredibly realistic faceswapping, created with machine learning techniques -- are creepy as hell, except when they're not (then they're a form of incredibly expressive creativity with implications for both storytelling and political speech).
The web is vast, and while there’s room for everyone, competition is stiff when it comes to landing on that first page of a Google search. That’s why developers aren’t afraid to spend exorbitant amounts of time and money on search engine optimization (SEO) to ensure their sites rank higher than others. However, not all […]
Many of us enjoy the aesthetic of vintage electronics, but trying to use most hardware from the 1950’s isn’t necessarily practical. This is especially true where speakers are concerned. While most of us can appreciate the old-school feel of retro speakers, they have a hard time matching the convenience and power delivered by today’s Bluetooth speakers. […]
Python is one of the most popular and versatile programming languages used by developers today, making it an ideal first choice for those looking to kickstart a career in programming. While you could go back to school or sign up for a pricey coding bootcamp, you can learn the essentials of coding with Python at […]