Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace

John Perry Barlow

Fol­low­ing the announce­ment of the death of John Per­ry Bar­low, I’ve been re-read­ing some of his writ­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly the Dec­la­ra­tion of the inde­pen­dence of cyber­space, A doc­u­ment that could be said to be the found­ing of inter­net cul­ture, even if a bit naive in how the tech­nol­o­gy would be used.

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.

This has a lot of rel­e­vance now just as at the time. Gov­ern­ments, more so, are try­ing to increase reg­u­la­tion on the inter­net, and the con­flict between law enforce­ment, pol­i­tics, tech com­pa­nies and tech cul­ture, all the way through to the spy­ing rev­e­la­tions revealed by Edward Snow­den.

Con­flict between val­ues of tech peo­ple and ‘politi­cos who don’t under­stand tech’ is some­thing I wit­ness a lot in both offline con­ver­sa­tions and online spaces. That if those try­ing to reg­u­late under­stood the tech, and the frus­tra­tion that increased restric­tions and just block it atti­tude harms what peo­ple are actu­al­ly try­ing to devel­op.

There is anoth­er side to this too. That what we con­sid­er to be our quirky, inde­pen­dent social spaces are not so any more. This isn’t the inter­net of 1990’s of lots of peo­ples hand craft­ed and care­ful­ly curat­ed spaces (though indieweb folks are try­ing to bring that back). This is the inter­net of big tech, of Face­books and Twit­ters and Googles, of big com­pa­nies har­vest­ing up huge data for sell­ing adver­tis­ing on the back of. Yet these com­pa­nies still try to avoid deal­ing with the prob­lem where pos­si­ble (Exhib­it A is the mass bulling prob­lem on Twit­ter).

Whilst the big say­ing is that “Dear Politi­cians, it’s no longer ok to not know how the inter­net works.” The same can be said to apply the oth­er way, that “Dear tech peo­ple, its not longer ok to not know how pol­i­tics works.”

Which brings us back to the dec­la­ra­tion of inde­pen­dence to cyber­space, and how rel­e­vant it is now. The inter­net is glob­al and can’t real­is­ti­cal­ly be under the con­trol of indi­vid­ual coun­tries, there is always a way around any restric­tion. How then does ‘cyber­space’ become a respect­ed part­ner and the rela­tion­ship it has to the rest of the world? Den­mark has decid­ed to appoint an ambas­sador to tech. Whilst this is focused on big tech com­pa­nies and influ­enc­ing their inter­nal pol­i­cy, it demon­strates the impor­tance of main­tain­ing online space is hav­ing the the offline world.

Aside note: I don’t con­sid­er online and offline to be good sep­a­ra­tion cat­e­gories. Its rare for some­one to live a com­plete­ly offline life these days, and I don’t think we have yet invent­ed Matrix / Lawn­mow­er Man tech to upload us into cyber­space. Instead online and offline spaces blend with­in our lives. We use Face­book or Twit­ter to plan things and meet up, or chat about an event for exam­ple. This has been a big part of my past work with Mak­er­hood, Dadamac and oth­ers, and some­thing I’m look­ing to get back into.

Fea­tured Image : © Joi Ito, Cre­ative Com­mons BY 2.0

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