Irony can be ironic sometimes.
Later today, word came that Dead songwriter and Internet activist John Perry Barlow had passed at the age of 70.
I was fortunate enough to have met Barlow three or four times in the early 1990s, when he was creating a stir about Internet freedom – even before Al Gore had invented it – at the SIGGRAPH annual meetings.
That’s Special Interest Group – Graphics, which now dominate Western media and culture.
I got to hang out with the Pixar execs, knew why shadows from a lamp named Luxo were special, and have a beverage or two with Barlow.
With a broken heart I have to announce that EFF’s founder, visionary, and our ongoing inspiration, passed away quietly in his sleep this morning. We will miss Barlow and his wisdom for decades to come, and he will always be an integral part of EFF.
It is no exaggeration to say that major parts of the Internet we all know and love today exist and thrive because of Barlow’s vision and leadership. He always saw the Internet as a fundamental place of freedom, where voices long silenced can find an audience and people can connect with others regardless of physical distance.
Barlow was sometimes held up as a straw man for a kind of naive techno-utopianism that believed that the Internet could solve all of humanity’s problems without causing any more. As someone who spent the past 27 years working with him at EFF, I can say that nothing could be further from the truth. Barlow knew that new technology could create and empower evil as much as it could create and empower good. He made a conscious decision to focus on the latter: “I knew it’s also true that a good way to invent the future is to predict it. So I predicted Utopia, hoping to give Liberty a running start before the laws of Moore and Metcalfe delivered up what Ed Snowden now correctly calls ‘turn-key totalitarianism.’”
Barlow’s lasting legacy is that he devoted his life to making the Internet into “a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth . . . a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.”
In the days and weeks to come, we will be talking and writing more about what an extraordinary role Barlow played for the Internet and the world. And as always, we will continue the work to fulfill his dream.