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Internet Pioneer John Perry Barlow Dead at 70

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has announced that one of its co-founders, John Perry Barlow, died in his sleep on the morning of 7 February 2018 at the age of 70 after a long series of illnesses. In the organization’s statement, EFF Executive Director Cindy Cohn said:

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.

Among his many works, Barlow is perhaps best known for “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” which declared the Internet as “a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth… where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.”

Barlow was something of a Renaissance man. In addition to his work with the EFF, he was also a cattle rancher and lyricist for the Grateful Dead, for whom he helped write songs like “Black-Throated Wind,” “Cassidy,” “Heaven Help the Fool,” “Looks Like Rain,” and “Mexicali Blues,” among many others.

TidBITS covered the formation of the EFF all the way back in “Electronic Frontiersmen” (9 July 1990). Along with Barlow, the EFF’s other co-founders included John Gilmore and Mitch Kapor. Gilmore was an early employee at Sun Microsystems, founder of Cygnus Support, and a major contributor the GNU project. He also co-authored the Bootstrap Protocol, which later evolved into DHCP. Kapor is best known for promoting the first spreadsheet, VisiCalc, and then founding Lotus. Initial funding for the EFF came from Kapor, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, and an anonymous benefactor.

Another name you might notice in our article from 1990 is Mike Godwin. Yes, that’s the Mike Godwin of Godwin’s law fame, who has also penned an obituary for Barlow.

Is the Internet still a frontier, or is it more of a megalopolis, complete with ritzy neighborhoods and sketchy parts of town? Is Barlow’s utopian dream of cyberspace still alive (consider the Arab Spring and online communities for oppressed minorities) or has it been long dead (thanks to trolls, doxxers, and fake news)? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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