The class was assigned two reading assignments this week. Both were nearly 20 years old, and shared the perspectives of two separate authors and their views of the internet in the mid 90s. I found the article, “Introducing Humdog: Pandora’s Vox Redux”, written by an author named Humdog, to be a fairly honest and insightful “take” on the internet. The other piece was a little more ridiculous and I chose to spend the majority of this blog article contemplating John Barlow’s self-righteous essay.
John Perry Barlow’s “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” was nothing more than a call to arms for internet geeks of the mid-nineties. Barlow’s manifesto took aim at the “Telecom Reform Act of 1996” and did so in a way that probably made early programmers and chat room enthusiasts rejoice louder than their 56k modems connecting to their BBS.
It’s not that Barlow’s intentions weren’t founded in principle— his commitment to his cause was just. It was his approach to the declaration that was trite and juvenile. The essay seemed to be a left over speech from his Height-Ashbury days with the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and the magical trips with Timothy Leary.
Barlow occasionally weaved moral, intelligent comments throughout his testament only
to ruin it by stating that, “The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule.” Barlow’s declaration attempted to convince others that the internet could be managed the same way that things were handled in grade school. Barlow claimed he knew the future of cyberspace but failed to realize the extent of its value to the world a mere 5 years in his future. It was more than obvious, even in 1996, that the internet would blow up and need some type of management.
Years after his declaration Barlow realized the folly of his youth and publicly chided his writing and took up digital rights activism. Hopefully his insight into copyright infringement and DRM will lead him to a better and more informed understanding of digital media and its uses better than his “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” did.