This week, the internet and the world got a little darker as one of the most optimistic and loving advocates of the potentials of the Internet passed away.
John Perry Barlow was many things and many contradictions.
His declaration of the independence of cyberspace (followed by The Economy of Ideas) became the rallying cry for those who looked to build a better future rooted in the power of the Internet and is still as relevant today as it was 22 years ago when he wrote it. It was the organizing document of much of the optimism we, as a young generation of dot-commoners, embraced. It was a document that was all about the hopes and promises of a world WE could build. It was a repudiation of the traditional order… and it was presented at Davos, ground-zero for the powers-that-be.
A Republican and hardcore Libertarian, John was the man who could get a crowd together to dance in the New York City streets during a Republican convention, using the most natural of efforts as a peaceful mean of protest against war and oppression.
A man with a full agenda, John could always spend time with anyone who had a new idea of how to make the world a better place, help them refine their efforts by challenging their assumptions and trying to open their eyes to the potentials of love and connectivity. And yet, John forced those of us who saw technology as the force that would change the world to rethink our assumption and look at the internet as a social movement, something that went beyond the bits and bytes and sites and apps we were building.
In many ways, John could be seen as part of a small elite group of people we could call “the conscience of the internet”. It’s a small group that, unfortunately, seems to get smaller day by day as a dystopian view of what this network could be slowly replaces the vision of unlimited connection and communication potential John first heralded.
40 years ago, he drew up a list of what he called Principles of Adult Behavior and, as Jason Kottke found out, this is what they meant to him.
I don’t expect the perfect attainment of these principles. However, I post them as a standard for my conduct as an adult. Should any of my friends or colleagues catch me violating one of them, bust me.
John saw the future and believed, until the end, that we could build a better world with the new technologies we had… and he tried to will that world into reality. Now that he’s left us, it is up to every single ones of us to pick up the torch of optimism and youthfulness that John always carried and bring it forward until we do reach the Utopia he once envisioned.