John Perry Barlow (1947-2018), a poet and Internet philosopher, was a cofounder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a member of our Board of Directors from 1990 until his death. Barlow's passion for life, liberty, and human connection brought him in contact with a staggering range of people and made him an inspiration all around the world—and to us. In his work as an Internet activist, he made us all think about what computer networks might be and to approach the digital future with hope.
Internet Luminaries Explore Barlow's Philosophy
It is no exaggeration to say that major parts of the Internet we all know and love today exist and thrive because of Barlow’s vision and leadership. He always saw the Internet as a fundamental place of freedom, where voices long silenced can find an audience and people can connect with others regardless of physical distance. He was among the first to note that: "the difficulty of enforcing existing copyright and patent laws is already placing in peril the ultimate source of intellectual property - the free exchange of ideas." and that "[T]he greatest constraint on your future liberties may come not from government but from corporate legal departments laboring to protect by force what can no longer be protected by practical efficiency or general social consent."
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. 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.'”
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.”
Here, we collect a portion of his writings and documents about him. There is much ageless wisdom here, as well as commentary that is based firmly in the first legal and moral issues facing the nascent Internet. Enjoy.
Note: The Barlow Library includes works not licensed under the EFF CC-BY License.
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