Sunday, February 11, 2018

R.I.P. John Perry Barlow

A long time ago—in 1994, the Internet tells me—I read an article by one John Perry Barlow, who my subsequent reearch infomed me was one of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF.  At that time, I didn’t really know who Barlow was, or what the EFF was, even.  But the article (which you can still read online) piqued my interest, as did the entire concept of the EFF, which is a non-profit organization devoted to Internet civil liberties—that is, they fight to keep the Internet free, for everyone.  I’ve never forgotten that article, or the EFF, whose name has popped up more and more often in the intervening years.  And I’ve never forgotten about John Perry Barlow, from whom I read many more articles and statements, and who is an articulate, passionate, ardent freedom fighter for a thankless cause for which he will never receive proper recognition.

Or, at least, he was.  John Perry Barlow died this week, at age 70.  I never had the pleasure of meeting him, although I have met a few folks who knew him personally, and by all accounts he was exactly what he projected in his writings.  In the EFF’s obituary, executive director Cindy Cohn wrote:

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 on the latter: “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.’”

So the man was not only articulate, passionate, and ardent, but also crazy optimistic.  I’m not even entirely sure I realized how much I admired this guy until I found out he had passed away.  So tonight I say, rest in peace, John Perry Barlow.  The world will miss you, even though it will probably never quite figure out why.

No comments:

Post a Comment