John Perry Barlow

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John Perry Barlow


Texte zur Theorie des Internets

John Perry Barlow (1947-2018) mehr im archiv der AKI-list



This week, we’ve been mourning the loss of the Internet’s philosopher-in-chief, John Perry Barlow. Barlow was a great internet hero, a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and a lyricist for the Grateful Dead. In his A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Barlow sketched out his vision: “We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.” In this 2015 clip, Barlow displays his quick wit and searing insights, while accepting the Internet Archive Hero Award on behalf of the Grateful Dead.

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A founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

April Glaser's essay critiques the late John Perry Barlow's libertarian views on the Internet. A wonderfully charismatic and witty man with a vast network of friends (also a lyricist for the Grateful Dead), Barlow was a thought leader whose views helped shape the evolution of Internet culture in the 1990s and beyond. A founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, he wrote a popular manifesto, "A Declaration of of the Independence of Cyberspace," in 1996.

In "The Incomplete Vision of John Perry Barlow," Glaser notes: "Barlow focused on harms the government would pose to the openness of the internet, not harms that corporations would pose, free from government regulation." We are now seeing the painful effects of this, as we now live in a world of untrammeled corporate surveillance. We have learned, as a recent Wired article puts it, "the core business model underlying the Big Tech platforms—harvesting attention with a massive surveillance infrastructure to allow for targeted, mostly automated advertising at very large scale—is far too compatible with authoritarianism, propaganda, misinformation, and polarization." (The piece, 'It's the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech', is worth a close read also).

Glaser concludes: "Barlow’s distaste for regulation combined with an early sense that the internet would change the world (and thus should be defended from the government by the people who use it) likely helped lay the groundwork for the unhinged growth of the corporate walled gardens we have today—places where journalism has gotten lost in the weeds of fake news and new startups have diminishing chances of competing. I can’t help but ask what might have happened had the pioneers of the open web given us a different vision—one that paired the insistence that we must defend cyberspace with a concern for justice, human rights, and open creativity, and not primarily personal liberty. What kind of internet would we have today?"

I believe this critique is important as we move deeper into the Blockchain-based "Web3.0" : Blockchain will do for value exchange and governance models what Web2.0 did for freedom of information and communication. At the moment, the truly liberational potential of Blockchain is obscured by the quest for short-term financial gain. While pundits discuss how Blockchain will "disrupt" many industries, disruption without an ecological purpose and social ethos will cause further disaster.

The biggest problem we confront remains accelerated climate change. As Alec Stephens writes in, we only have a few years left to engineer an extraordinary global turn-around before we lose the opportunity to avert a near-total climate catastrophe that could lead to mass depopulation or something close to human extinction.

Blockchain is creating another "digital gold rush" similar to the Dot Com bubble on an individual level. What needs to happen instead is that we apply this technology to reinvent and redesign our technical and social systems to radically reduce CO2 emissions on a planetary level. It seems, from where we are now, extraordinary unlikely that we will make this deadline.

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Electronic Frontier Foundation campaign "Help Stop the Sale of Public Interest Registry to a Private Equity Firm"

Take action here:

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