I grew up in New Delhi in the late 90s on a steady diet of 2600, phrack, BBSes and the EFF/internet. Two of the people I'd read a lot about and was very inspired by were JPB and Mitch Kapor, as founders of the EFF - and I decided one day that I'd like to actually reach out and talk to Barlow (I didn't actually have a goal in mind, now that I think about it).
Figuring that an email would never get a reply, I added him on AIM. To my utter surprise, he added me back - and after introducing myself as a high schooler who was a fan of the work he was doing, we communicated over the next year or so on a wide variety of topics that included open source, free software and the state of the internet in India at the time. For the next 10 years or so, when AIM was still active, he was one of the very few people still on my contacts list who would go "online" and "offline" with a regular cadence -- one of the only reasons I ever even logged into AIM was to (rarely) say hello :).
Of course, I stopped using the service a long time ago, and lost touch with him - but his declaration of independence of cyberspace was something that I leaned on when researching about internet censorship and policies a few years ago. I never did reach back out to him, and there was no pressing need to either.
On hearing the news, I'm reminded of how prescient and applicable his words have been to the issues and challenges that we see in the internet of today - but also how he personally upheld one beautifully phrased paragraph in particular, by virtue of his accepting a request from, and interacting with a random high schooler from half way across the world.
Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our commu
nications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.
Almost skipped over it, so anyone else trailing through who catches this, go and read it.
Now that's a life lived.
Years later I learned about the EFF as part of diving deep into tech in general. It took me another five or so to put together the fact that the JPB I knew and loved was the guy who started the EFF. It felt neat to have my past and present collide a little like that.
RIP Mr. Barlow, you will be sorely missed.
1993-1994 was also an important period for the legal case which motivated the creation of the EFF: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_Frontier_Foundation...
Our Father who art in heaven
And we'll stay here on earth
Which is sometimes so pretty
Rest in peace John.
At least I know I’m not the only crazy person. Sadly it is entirely unprovable to others. It would be like trying to prove to someone who’s never eaten chocolate before, that chocolate is this totally awesome thing. (And what is chocolate, really, but an entirely subjective sublime experience?)
Funny thing, though, that I can say about it (and which is entirely in agreement with his account)... If you ever manage to see theirs, they will be able to see yours, too.
Rest easy, JPB. You’re hopefully back with your tribe.
EDIT: OK, just made it to the end. Didn't really feel I could leave the above as my entire reply to such a profound story.
I’d come to find myself in Portland. In the home of a stranger but there was no cause for alarm. This place felt like a home. It was real and a part of our collective universe. I never met my host, not once while I was there. She was a kindred spirit. Her home was warm and welcoming but I never knew her. On the last day of my trip, we managed to cross paths in the house, only in sound, never vision. She entered the shower, and I left to catch a plane to New York City. Like any other day.
In New York City, I found myself thinking of my time in Portland, feeling drawn to this woman. She sent me a friend request on Facebook. I immediately started rifling through pictures to try and see her. To understand what this feeling was. This draw. This pull. There was a picture with her and her father. I recognized the name but I didn’t know why. I immediately copied the name into google and was floored.
He was Cyberspace. A man who’s been with me my whole digital life. A dreamer. Someone who believes in more. Surreal clarity. A tangle of wires connecting this whole god damned universe caught us both and brought us together, for just that moment. I don’t know why the wires thought I was special, why I needed to know, but I’m happy they did.
I reflected on this moment. This connection that was both possible and impossible without this man and his daughter. Here’s to you JPB and Anna for being the conduit for these crazy electrical signals that had something to say. It was but a moment in passing in our collective universes, but one that left a mark.
I always loved these bits:
"Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications."
"Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own speech itself throughout the world. These laws would declare ideas to be another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron. In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish."
"Barlow, best known prior to his co-founding of the Electronic Frontier Foundation as a songwriter for the Grateful Dead, was writing to inspire activism, not to prescribe a new world order, and his goal was to be lyrical and aspirational, not legislative. Barlow wrote and published his “Declaration” in the short days and weeks after Congress passed, and President Clinton signed into law, a telecommunications bill that aimed, in part, to censor the internet. No serious person – and certainly not the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other organizations that successfully challenged the Communications Decency Act provisions of that bill – believed that cyberspace would be “automagically” independent of the terrestrial world and its governments. Barlow’s “Declaration” is best understood, as Wired described it two decades later, as a “rallying cry.” Similarly, nobody thinks “The Star-Spangled Banner” or “America the Beautiful” or “This Land Is Your Land” is a constitution. (And of course the original Declaration of Independence isn’t one either.)"
The idea here is: if you have a substantive point to make, make it thoughtfully; if you don't, please don't comment until you do.
Fortunately for the rest of us he ended up co-founding the EFF instead.
As a teenager, Barlow's writings inspired me and many others to do things such as paint our websites black to protest the Communications Decency Act, and write lots of actual letters which, in aggregate, effected change legally and socially.
In 2000 at Comdex, I remember Barlow saying that he had no love for the record companies - as a member of the Grateful Dead he had never received a royalty statement that didn't say he owed the company money. This was during the height of the war on MP3s when other artists were claiming they were being robbed at gunpoint or something.
The black-throated wind keeps on pouring in.
And it speaks of a life that passes like dew.
It's forced me to see that you've done better by me,
Better by me than I've done by you.
I didn't even know he was a big influencer in tech until I saw him appear on the Colbert Report representing the EFF.
My JPB story is short and relatively meaningless, but back when I first signed up for twitter I just followed a bunch of famous people and would every now and then attempt to engage them. The only one that ever replied back to me was John Perry Barlow, and it made my week. I had interfaced with true greatness. Rest in peace, John!
Worth living by.
It's such a beautiful piece of music. Really gets down deep into the nature of life.
I listened to this album for years and didn't understand that song until recently when I went back and listened again.
I don't think the song is about an agricultural town and a women fetching water as it first appears. I think it's symbolic. The women is dipping into the river of life and carrying a little part away with her. She is brown like the earth because in this case she is symbolic of the earth, i.e. the substrate on which life appears or develops. The drops of water in the reeds are individual instances of life, eventually they lose their individuality and return to the ocean. The plowman is sowing the earth. Etc. Etc.
ADULT PRINCIPLES -John Perry Barlow
1 Be patient. No matter what.
2 Don't badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn't say to him.
3 Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
4 Expand your sense of the possible.
5 Don't trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.
6 Don't ask more of others than you can deliver yourself.
7 Tolerate ambiguity.
8 Laugh at yourself frequently.
9 Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.
10 Try not to forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.
11 Give up blood sports.
12 Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don't risk it frivolously.
13 Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)
14 Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
15 Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.
16 Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.
17 Praise at least as often as you disparage.
18 Admit your errors freely and quickly.
19 Become less suspicious of joy.
20 Understand humility.
21 Remember that love forgives everything.
22 Foster dignity.
23 Live memorably.
24 Love yourself.
You can find the whole thing (which is kind of amazing) at https://archive.li/jHN8B (search for "The Intimate Planet").
He is (indirectly) responsible for the existence of a hackerspace in Fresno, CA. Last year a few of us got together to talk about starting a chapter of the Electronic Frontier Alliance. That conversation morphed into, "fuck it, let's just start a hackerspace."
So thanks JPB. Rest well.
There's no leader really standing up and affirming the philosophical dream of the independence of cyberspace, as a place where people can gather freely to transact in virtual ways however they want. Rather, there's a huge backslide over the last 20 years.
Judgine from this thread, everyone.
Among others, the 2600 crew are still carrying that torch.
And by "you," I'm not calling out cromwellian, I mean anyone who reads this comment.
There are a number of sub-cultures that exist across the USA - redneck Wyoming ranchers, deadheads, San Francisco computer gearheads, civil libertarians - he seemed to belong to all of them. He was an easy person to say of that "he is one of the members of our community".
I know that him and Sean Parker were friends going way back. Someone told me a story that on the day Parker met Mark Zuckerberg etc. at the 66 restaurant, as portrayed in the movie the "Social Network", that Parker was crashing on Barlow's couch. I don't know if that is true or just part of the legend...
You would see him at various events around New York City when he was in the city. He often went to Florio's Pizzeria and Cigar Bar, holding court with people like Jaron Lanier and others.
A friend of mine said "He lived a life many would envy".
My condolences to his family and friends, and thanks for sharing him with us.
A champion of freedom. RIP.
Forbes: Why Spy?
by John Perry Barlow, 10.07.02
Grateful Dead Lyricist and Burning Man's Co-Founder Talk Tech
It's why I spit (virtually) upon posters who defend Google's actions towards Damore, and Twitter and YouTube's actions to deplatform people.
John Perry Barlow and John Gilmore, EFF founders.
California, a prophet on the burning shore
California, I'll be knocking on the golden door
Like an angel, standing in a shaft of light
Rising up to paradise, I know I'm gonna shine
I'm realizing I'm too sad to share any of the many stories.
But it also makes me realize how much of an Internet warrior we've all lost, and that we need to keep up the hope and the fight. Donate to EFF as memorial, please.
His Keynote was incredibly relevant. I highly recommend giving it a watch: https://youtu.be/1mrmOrUsbGI
This must be heaven --
Tonight I crossed the line.
You must be the angel
I thought I'd never find.
Was it you I heard singin'
While I was chasin' dreams?
Driven by the wind,
Like the dust that blows around
And the rain fallin' down...
JPB was a true artist and technologist. His art was inspired by the past and his policy by the future.
I thought I had an email from Dan that would answer this when I requested the black bar for someone, but that email seems to be gone when I search for it.
by John Perry Barlow
Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.
We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.
Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.
You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you create the wealth of our marketplaces. You do not know our culture, our ethics, or the unwritten codes that already provide our society more order than could be obtained by any of your impositions.
You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve. You use this claim as an excuse to invade our precincts. Many of these problems don't exist. Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means. We are forming our own Social Contract. This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different.
Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.
We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.
We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.
Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.
Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge. Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hope we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis. But we cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose.
In the United States, you have today created a law, the Telecommunications Reform Act, which repudiates your own Constitution and insults the dreams of Jefferson, Washington, Mill, Madison, DeToqueville, and Brandeis. These dreams must now be born anew in us.
You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants. Because you fear them, you entrust your bureaucracies with the parental responsibilities you are too cowardly to confront yourselves. In our world, all the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, are parts of a seamless whole, the global conversation of bits. We cannot separate the air that chokes from the air upon which wings beat.
In China, Germany, France, Russia, Singapore, Italy and the United States, you are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at the frontiers of Cyberspace. These may keep out the contagion for a small time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in bit-bearing media.
Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own speech itself throughout the world. These laws would declare ideas to be another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron. In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.
These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in the same position as those previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who had to reject the authorities of distant, uninformed powers. We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies. We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts.
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.
February 8, 1996
Technology has improved in sophistication and accessibility but I agree that bright spirit has been muted over the years.
Today I feel invigorated, and there is work to be done.