It is with great sadness that we received the news of John Perry Barlow’s passing. Very early on, Barlow saw the internet as a place, rather than a medium or a series of electronic tubes. Today, we believe, it is clear that Barlow was right in this view, as more of us are starting to inhabit the internet and call it our home. Cyberspace may not be physical, but it is space.
Barlow was raised in Wyoming by a religious family on a cattle farm, and the early internet reminded him of the early settlements and settlers that he too, descended from. It was this vision of the internet as a wild, large and still relatively uninhabited place that led him to choose Electronic Frontier Foundation as the name for the advocacy group he founded together with Mitch Kapor and John Gilmore in 1990.
“Imagine discovering a continent so vast that it may have no end to its dimensions. Imagine a new world with more resources than all our future greed might exhaust, more opportunities than there will ever be entrepreneurs enough to exploit, and a peculiar kind of real estate that expands with development. Imagine a place where trespassers leave no footprints, where goods can be stolen an infinite number of times and yet remain in the possession of their original owners, where businesses you never heard of can own the history of your personal affairs, where only children feel completely at home, where the physics is that of thought rather than things, and where everyone is as virtual as the shadows in Plato’s cave.”
Barlow as cited by Goldsmith and Wu in “Who control the internet.”
It is also this comparison with the settlement of a new continent that led Barlow to believe the internet should be left alone. The term cyberlibertarian was largely attributed to him, and he memorably called the NSA the “American Occupation Army of Cyberspace.”
In the “Declaration of Cyberspace Independence,” he writes:
“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.”
At ExpressVNP, we mourn the death of John Perry Barlow, but we also celebrate and live up to his legacy. We believe in the sovereign individual and strive to continue to empower the residents of cyberspace with the tools they need to settle this vast continent free from censorship, coercion, and exploitation.
Featured image: Joi