One sign of how much you accomplished in life is how many people from all different walks of life remember you when you’re gone. Of many aspects, that’s my most favorite about John Perry Barlow’s life: he’s touched so many people in so many spaces from music, to politics, to technology.
Another is one’s ability to blend two different concepts from two different fields together – that’s how we create new ideas after all. And last is the ability to know things well enough to be able to explain it plainly to others and to use your words to lead. For instance, even though he may not have had a background in engineering, he understood enough to be able to explain it well and in simple terms to others. What a beautiful gift.
I believe Barlow did all three really well. This weekend, in remembrance, I went back to find a few good essays by Barlow (and one podcast h/t @msg).
- Crime and Puzzlement, 1990.
- The economy of ideas, 1994.
- A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, 1996, “We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace.”
- When Worlds Collide, 1997.
- Virtual reality and the pioneers of cyberspace, 2015.
My favorite is the passage where I believe he was the first to connect the Gibson term cyberspace with what we now know as our present-day global telecommunications network. From Crime and Puzzlement:
Whether by one telephonic tendril or millions, they are all connected to one another. Collectively, they form what their inhabitants call the Net. It extends across that immense region of electron states, microwaves, magnetic fields, light pulses and thought which sci-fi writer William Gibson named Cyberspace.
Cyberspace, in its present condition, has a lot in common with the 19th Century West. It is vast, unmapped, culturally and legally ambiguous, verbally terse (unless you happen to be a court stenographer), hard to get around in, and up for grabs. Large institutions already claim to own the place, but most of the actual natives are solitary and independent, sometimes to the point of sociopathy. It is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for both outlaws and new ideas about liberty.
The words ring just as true now as when they were written in 1990. Large institutions still claim to own the place, just as in the 90s and as with the old Wild West. But there are still natives out there on the edges, working to get out their ideas of freedom.