John Perry Barlow: Is Cyberspace Still Anti-Sovereign?
Published by California Magazine in 2018:
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in April 2006. Last week, John Perry Barlow—poet, Internet philosopher and activist, known for an eclectic resume and zest for life— died in his sleep after a period of ill health. California is reposting this story in light of that news.
Ten years ago, when hyperbole was the last word, John Perry Barlow’s A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace was compared by many to Thomas Paine’s The Crisis, which signalled the beginning of the American Revolution. Writing for Wired magazine, Barlow heralded the rise of the digerati. In turn he was trumpeted by them for delivering the seminal pronouncement of the emergent digital age and for declaring war on any institution that would try to control the Internet. His manifesto has since been widely distributed, widely quoted, and is linked to more than 20,000 Internet sites. As a consequence, he has been called “the Thomas Jefferson of Cyberspace.” A decade later, as Cyberspace and Real Space have merged, California magazine asked him to reexamine his manifesto, assessing where he was right, where he was sort of right, and where he was overblown. Is Cyberspace still anti-sovereign?
Well worth a read this Sunday. The description of how Barlow came to write his original 1996 declaration is particularly funny, while his description of politicians and those in old media who fund them is just as true today, sadly.
It makes me wonder what he would have written if he had been asked to reflect on the state of the web in 2016, a further decade on.