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