Techno-utopias and our walled garden: is there time to escape?
John perry barlow, who died last Wednesday at the age of 70, was one of those unusual characters whose obituary didn’t find common ground. Barlow, an Internet evangelist who has written lyrics to Grateful Dead, is also a poet, activist, cattle rancher and corporate consultant, whose touring career is not easily summed up. Billboard wrote his music career; Cable about his network operations; The casper star BBS in Wyoming reported his boyhood on the Bar Cross ranch. Barlow, louche, and charm, with a surprising number of friends, suggest that a man loves a good life and provides facilities for the bulls. No one thinks of barlow’s place in history, or how to answer the trickier question: is barlow’s utopian futurism still relevant? Is his job an activist? Is his music okay? But as writers work on the complex legacy of John perry barlow, I suspect that most readers will have a different question: who?
Don’t worry: unless you like to Sue the government, or in the conical pit of Fillmore in 1976, you don’t know who barlow is. Born in a cattle farm in Wyoming, barrow promised early as a writer that he made significant progress in his first novel shortly after graduating from college. He had never finished it, but had found the acid and lived in the retreat for some time. Although he kept the simple abstraction of a bull’s hand throughout his life, Barlow’s intelligence and charm enabled him to reach out to a large group of acquaintances, including the Grateful Dead rhythm guitarist Bob Weir. In the early 1970s, when will was competing with the death’s main songwriter, Robert hunter, barlow was brought in to replace him.
The resulting American failed singers had never received too many radio plays and were not among the dead. Click on “box rain,” “friend of the devil,” “Casey Jones,” “the touch of gray” — these are all written by hunter. Barlow’s most enduring song may be “Cassidy,” the ending of Weir’s personal album Ace, which later became the Grateful Dead tour theme song. A memorable lament and reconstruction of the song, “cassidy” tells of a grieving daughter whose inheritance is the rebirth of the earth:
Now he’s lost in his Cadillac village.
I can tell him by your smile that he is rolling back.
To clean the night.
The long burnt green space.
Vail asked the song to be played at his funeral.
Unknown in popular culture, Barlow became a celebrity among Dead fans. This charm has paid off, and barlow believes that the dead head may be an anti-cultural alternative to the disappearance of traditional family farms. But barlow found himself too close to the band. “I really can’t go out and study dead heads in the parking lot because I’m too big,” he said in a 2014 promotional interview. “Soon they found out who I was, and then I didn’t get straight.”
A friend suggested to barlow that he contact his fans online. It was 1985, and barlow, not a computer man, didn’t know what “online” was. But he took out from Stanford university, a scholar – an Internet account at that time they did not open to the public – and start anonymous access Usenet Deadhead on BBS, Usenet is one of the earliest Internet discussion moderator. While STL education obviously lacks a fatal flaw, Barlow has the potential to do so. “I have a religious experience when it comes to a very small online environment,” he says. “I think what I see is completely different from anything that has happened in human history.”
Those early Deadhead newsgroups have not yet been used to share music; The MP3 player has been around for a decade, and if you download a CD at a standard 300 bits per second, it could be longer. But BBS was used to facilitate the death live performance (including, of course, the private sale of “the little overlord” — barlow, like the rest of the dead, to encourage this) cassette tape trade. Soon, The anti-establishment sentiment of The 1960s appeared on other sites, including Stewart brand’s global ‘Lectronic Link ‘(‘ The Well’), which became The preferred community for Barlow and Grateful Dead fans.
By 1990, barlow was a well-known Internet company. Barlow is neither a programmer nor a scholar nor a businessman. He’s just a guy who posts BBS posts. But in that year, pay attention to the Internet growing federal violations – especially the secret service on a bulletin board postings prompted raided the headquarters of role-playing game publishers, Barlow founded the electronic frontier foundation, together with John Gilmore and Mitch Kapor, he is two separate rich technology entrepreneurs, through Well met his friends.
Over the next 28 years, the union army has become a major component of modern digital civil liberties, providing a powerful defense of Internet users’ rights. These rights include the absolute position of disseminating information – including pornography, hate literature, confidential documents and copyrighted material. These aggressive posture to cause the attention of people and fundraising ability enhancement, and as time goes on, the EFF evolved into a digital version of the ACLU, submitted dozens of federal lawsuit against it believe the government beyond and lobbying against congress tried to regulate online discourse. Barlow became a vocal pioneer of the union army, calling himself “an Internet liberal”.
In 1996, in response to the “telecommunications reform law”, barlow issued the “declaration on the independence of cyberspace”, which suggested that the Internet was an area beyond the norms of sovereignty. Barlow “declaration” was established after Jefferson, written in language similar to the wind: “industrial governments of the world, you are tired of flesh and steel giant, I come from cyberspace, the heart of the new home”. “You are not welcome. You have no sovereignty where we gather.”
Regardless of what Barlow achieved during a dozen deep editing of the Grateful Dead solo project, the document was widely spread. I read it at the age of 18, and it was undisputable to accept its bold claims, just like many others of my generation. Even before the “declaration” of February 1996, the first MP3 files began to appear on the long-trafficking Usenet BBS. By the end of 1996, piracy had jumped from Usenet to the university campus server, creating a generation of unrepentant pirates. After my freshman year, my mother asked me about the legitimacy of file-sharing – I told her, “mom, this is the Internet, and the rules don’t apply.”
For a while, they didn’t. Barlow has played an important role in this. Federal investigation committee on behalf of file sharing, to the “digital Copyright Act of one thousand” in 1998 put forward a series of legal challenges, especially a clause, effective awarded the company right holder in case you get a court order summoned suspected pirates power of identity. (the unconstitutional legislation passed the senate in a 99-0 vote, and sometimes seems to be the only concern of the federal foundation’s advocates.)
The union army won the battle, along with other similar battles, for some time preserving the ability to share the federally funded campaign. But they failed. Hearing a lawyer tell it, the key decision was MGM v. Grokster, a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that promoted the transfer of copyright documents to peer-to-peer platforms. Lawyers from the fbi opposed the debate. They lost 9-0.
The consistency of legislative and judicial opposition to document sharing may not be its moral gray, but the black and white danger it brings to the underlying companies that rely on copyright.
Barlow has earned income as a songwriter, takes Internet liberalism seriously, and promotes the maximization and preservation of digital freedom, even for his own economic interests. Digital economy dilemma facing this means: if the information is able to immediately free to copy, it is only through open communication barriers between private to maintain now artificial scarcity of copyright. A true Internet liberal – perhaps we should call him an anarchist – barlow takes an extreme position, denying that the state has the right to limit point-to-point communications. That requires abandoning the concept of intellectual property, even if it is corrosive to the margins of big companies and the small income streams of small songwriters, including barlow himself.
I don’t think even rand Paul would agree with that. Many of Mr Barrow’s friends in the music industry did not (rightly) think that the fbi’s file-sharing defence was an attack on their livelihoods. After Grokster, point to point was abandoned by mainstream capitalists, but file sharing still exists, rooted in the bottom of the torrent network. Part of the reason is that without accepting barlow’s ideals, Internet liberalism continued into the late 21st century, and even as the music industry collapsed, artists suffered losses and thousands of jobs were lost forever.
In the end, the new wave of technology reached levels the government could not reach. When the iPhone first appeared in 2007, I was buying the iPhone one day. The first time I held it in my hand, as barlow once had, I felt that what I was seeing was very different from what had happened in human history. The irresistible allure of its aluminum alloy shell and its glowing touch screen made me give up my little fear of freedom and privacy. Facebook, then, replaced MySpace as the main social network, and Spotify, with its complete music library, ended the open Internet.
Ironically, the people behind these technologies often agree with barlow’s own vision. Steve jobs, like barlow, was a shoeless man who abandoned LSD. Mark zuckerberg is a teenage hacker who is willing to break any rules. Spotify’s Daniel Ek once ran a peer-to-peer file-sharing company. In public, these people cast barlow’s words aside, promising to remove barriers to communication and liberate individuals. In private, they went to Burning Man. But behind the demands of capital, there are more restrictions on the types of technological freedom.
To this end, the new services require users to sign an end-user license agreement, and give up and click on a box, which barlow and EFF have spent years trying to protect. The new service monitors users, aggregates large amounts of personal data, then sells it to advertisers or secretly shares it with government intelligence agencies. The new service seems to make time disappear, allowing users to lock in hours and even violate their judgment. It’s all voluntary. Network peers can’t help it.
Barlow is still optimistic about the potential of the Internet, but there is a growing sense of frustration at his subsequent speeches. He continued to oppose government intrusion and corporate surveillance, and pushed for action by Edward snowden, Chelsea manning and Julian assange. He hated EULA, the long, messy contracts that everyone signed with Numbers, but no one ever read them. Although he has never given up on his manifesto, he admits that, even in 1996, the Internet he described was more ideal than it was. When he died last week, barlow’s cyber-liberal utopia was as fictional as narnia.
No one will write his manifesto today. Believers like me worry about the psychological cost of social media addiction, the huge and irresponsible corporate data warehouse, the panoramic surveillance images of government surveillance and the artificial intelligence that makes humans obsolete. Technological pessimism is in the ascendant; High-tech optimism, for its part, has been diluted by political colors and can only adhere to the uncritical admiration of a few very rich entrepreneurs.
In 1985, barlow was on the Internet to cover up his celebrity. Today he will be invited to promote it. So let’s ask again: what is his legacy? On Spotify, “Cassidy” has 350,000 streams. Not terrible, but “box rain” has 10 million. The union army will continue to fight the government’s courts, but unless they can somehow destroy the EULA’s tyranny, their work will become increasingly irrelevant. File sharing is the death of future generations, and barlow declared that the Internet, independent of government, is now mainly used for surveillance, advertising, persuasion and control.
Barlow’s legacy may be a reminder that the Internet we have is not inevitable, and not long ago, a different set of values was one thing. In general, we have given up on the brilliance of the touch screen, the ability to browse the media library, and the transient satisfaction of the algorithm’s refresh schedule. This seems to be an unfair trade. Barlow once wrote, “we will create spiritual civilization in cyberspace.” More recently, it feels more like a prison. Maybe it’s time to break out.