Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Robert Hunter and John Perry Barlow

Wow, is it really 2020 already? I've been blogging less, I guess.

Sorry about that.

Time is passing for everyone; over the last 18 months, the Grateful Dead lost both their songwriters, Robert Hunter and John Perry Barlow.

Robert Hunter was, by far, the better songwriter; songs like Truckin', Uncle John's Band, Scarlet Begonias, and Friend of the Devil will, I hope, still be sung a hundred years from now.

John Perry Barlow was, however, and trying to take nothing away from Hunter, the more interesting man. He thought a lot about public policy and political issues, and published some very interesting essays.

Among those essays, he's definitely best known for A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, in which he attempted to take the deep-rooted American notions of Free Speech and extend them significantly farther:

Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own speech itself throughout the world. These laws would declare ideas to be another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron. In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.

He worked much harder on this idea, and, I think, gave it a pretty interesting and well-considered foundation, in his subsequent essay, Selling Wine Without Bottles: the Economy of Mind on the Global Net.

The Declaration and the Economy of Mind were deliberately polemic and provocative, but the organization he helped co-found, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, remains one of the most interesting technology-related organizations that we have.

These are not easy ideas, and I've always thought that Barlow deserved more credit for focusing attention on them, and getting others to at least think about them seriously.

Among his other writings, I was always quite partial to The 25 Principles of Adult Behavior, which still hold water some forty years later, and, I suspect, will still be good ideas centuries from now.

After his death, the EFF held a John Perry Barlow Symposium, and the Duke Law and Technology Review has now published the proceedings. There are some pretty interesting essays in the proceedings, it's definitely, as they say, food for thought.

This is good; these thoughts and ideas deserve to continue to be discussed. We haven't got it all figured out, just yet.

And I think that is a sentiment that Robert Hunter would agree with, too. As he wrote in Ripple:

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung
Would you hear my voice come through the music?
Would you hold it near, as it were your own?

It's a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken
Perhaps they're better left unsung
I don't know, don't really care
Let there be songs to fill the air

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty
If your cup is full may it be again
Let it be known there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of man

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go, no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone

Let's all keep on talking.

Happy new year.

No comments:

Post a Comment