Last night upon hearing the passing of John Perry Barlow, I emailed a few friends in the industry and wanted to get their thoughts on Barlow. Founding editor of Wired (and author, thinker, and futurist), Kevin Kelly, knew him well and sent an email sharing his impressions of Barlow. Here is a tiny snippet that is relevant to me and should be to others.
It may be truer to say the most of what he wrote and said was less an attempt to nail reality as it was to reshape reality. He was unashamed aspirationalist. In that regard, Barlow had much in common with many prophets, gurus, visionaries, magicians, innovators, charlatans, and politicians in that he placed greater emphasis on what could be rather than what is. And he believed, as those just mentioned do and most journalists and scientists don’t, that you can create reality with your words.
I always thought of Barlow as the Mayor of the Internet. He saw very early that the internet was a political artifact that would require the same kind of idealism, compromise, and civics that prosperous and free societies needed. Nobody elected him, but if we did vote for a Mayor of the Internet, he would have won because everyone –no matter their stripe or color — thought of him as a good friend (and he was a good friend to thousands). I think he would have done a decent job as Mayor, rallying our better natures to make a better internet city on the hill.
If there had been no Barlow, I believe the internet would still be hunting for its own identity, it would have far fewer heroes guarding fragile rights and responsibilities in this new realm, it would lack some of the most poetic descriptions of technology written, and we would not have had the rawhide character of Barlow, the free-spirit no one could domesticate, always ready with a satisfying turn of phrase to illuminate the horror and glories of our new world.