He may have been a lyricist for the Grateful Dead, but a component of John Perry Barlow’s activism and corpus will forever be associated with a concept fast losing its gloss: internet freedom.
“A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” had a certain founding father’s imperative, and, along with that added enthusiasm, a degree of misunderstanding. Like the mind expansion experiences he shared with Timothy Leary during the 1960s, it had a psychedelic edge to it, an LSD doctrine of interactive space.
Governments, for instance, would be left outside its perimeters. Rather than partners and participants, they were deemed rapacious enemies. Cyberspace was “the new home of Mind.” In that mind, states would let citizens be. “You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.”
It was axiomatic that any such space be free, a “global social space” inimical to despots and regulators, “naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose upon us… 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.”
In Barlow, we had a figure envisaging what was to come, and, in some ways, what was sliding into history. According to The Economist, he “embodied a vanishing America. His lyrics, like his lifestyle, were a world of cowboys, nature and passions.” In WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), he found a virtual…