A declaration of the independence of cyberspace is some kind of techno-libertarian-utopian fantasy text about a virtual world outside of government intervention, written in response to the Telecommunications Reform Act. Barlow’s ideology seems to disallow any kind of nuance, but his privilege allowed him a platform for an impetuous response anyway. As a critique of legislation, it would be poor and unproductive, which is why it is instead a declaration to embolden people like him, against institutional interference in favor of “enlightened self-interest.” The EFF does some really great work but Barlow is a contemptibly obnoxious person.
Many of the grand declarations Barlow made in 1996 about the internet have ceased to be, or were perhaps never, true. With some exceptions that ran counter-current to the existing social structures, the internet mimics many power dynamics that exist in all other aspects of life. Access to and literacy in the tools to produce and manipulate our internet reality are unequally distributed. This alone contradicts the dream of his utopia. The “norms” he cites have been eroded, insofar as it is accepting of fringe ideas, it proliferates some of the most repulsive kind, and our bodies are definitely not physically disconnected from our internet presence. Humans minds are inextricably linked to their bodies. This fact combined with existing societal power asymmetries has resulted in real devastation for many people.
The piece is also shocking in it’s apparent disregard of the history of the inception of the internet, when organizations like DARPA and RAND played integral roles. The government may not have “solutions” to problems that arise in relation to the internet, but it seems a bit blunt to ignore the potential role of government in allowing for and expanding the infrastructure that allows people access to and the literacy in this “liberating” space. But Barlow was making a point about a law, and 20 years ago he was probably really excited that cyberspace was providing a playground for his ideas and a loudspeaker for his opinions.
My assignment from last week has been updated.