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.--EFF
Here are five lessons we learned from the digital rights activist.
1. Freedom of Speech is importantBarlow believed that the world should be a place 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.”
This is probably due to Barlow’s humble lifestyle on a cattle ranch. Here the idea of being free and having a wide-open space for oneself developed.
Barlow was an advocate for net neutrality and believed that the internet was where people could speak openly, having that wide open space as he did on the ranch.
As he himself said, “there is a lot of room to define yourself. You can literally make yourself up.”
2. People appreciate familiarityBarlow was not only passionate about self-development through the internet, but believed that putting one’s digital goods out there for the world to see and hear was the best marketing strategy.
As the lyricist for the Grateful Dead rock band, Barlow developed a marketing strategy in which he let people bootleg the Grateful Dead’s concerts so people became more familiar and would flock to the music they learned to love.
He believed that the secret to marketing was in the availability and familiarity of the product.
3. Live freely and without fearIn 1990, Barlow took a stance against the government and created the non-profit organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
Here, he fought against the government for individual’s freedom of speech and personal liberties.
He believed that people should have the opportunity to express themselves freely and that the internet was a great place for this purpose. It was because of this that he went to every measure to do so.
4. Security mattersAlthough Barlow strongly believed in the internet and all the good the internet had to offer, he was not blind to the darkness of the internet.
He believed that people needed to have secure communication methods. He therefore provided, as part of the EFF, security measures through tips, tools, how-tos, tutorials, and software for safer online communications.
5. Stand up for what you believe inBarlow believed in an open internet, a free internet, and he held that belief until he died. He took a stand against the government and authorities for what he thought was right.It is through Barlow’s strength and stance with the government that today we have the safety, security, and free music and movies to listen and watch.
Today, as he can no longer do so, we must take the stance for ourselves and stand up for what we believe, just like he taught us to do.
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A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace
Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.
We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.
Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.
You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you create the wealth of our marketplaces. You do not know our culture, our ethics, or the unwritten codes that already provide our society more order than could be obtained by any of your impositions.
You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve. You use this claim as an excuse to invade our precincts. Many of these problems don't exist. Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means. We are forming our own Social Contract. This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different.
Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.
We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.
We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.
Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.
Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge. Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hope we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis. But we cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose.
In the United States, you have today created a law, the Telecommunications Reform Act, which repudiates your own Constitution and insults the dreams of Jefferson, Washington, Mill, Madison, DeToqueville, and Brandeis. These dreams must now be born anew in us.
You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants. Because you fear them, you entrust your bureaucracies with the parental responsibilities you are too cowardly to confront yourselves. In our world, all the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, are parts of a seamless whole, the global conversation of bits. We cannot separate the air that chokes from the air upon which wings beat.
In China, Germany, France, Russia, Singapore, Italy and the United States, you are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at the frontiers of Cyberspace. These may keep out the contagion for a small time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in bit-bearing media.
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.
These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in the same position as those previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who had to reject the authorities of distant, uninformed powers. We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies. We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts.
We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.
February 8, 1996