John Perry Barlow

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John Perry Barlow
John Perry Barlow -Mill Valley, California, USA -at home-17Dec2010.jpg
Barlow at his California home in December 2010
Born (1947-10-03) October 3, 1947 (age 69)
Sublette County, Wyoming, U.S.
Occupation lyricist, essayist
Nationality American
Period 1971–95 (lyrics)
1990–present (essays)
Subject Internet (essays)

John Perry Barlow (born October 3, 1947) is an American poet and essayist, a retired Wyoming cattle rancher, and a cyberlibertarian[1] political activist who has been associated with both the Democratic and Republican parties. He is also a former lyricist for the Grateful Dead and a founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Freedom of the Press Foundation. As of 2016, he is a Fellow Emeritus at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, where he has maintained an affiliation since 1998.[2] He has been identified by Time magazine as one of the "School of Rock: 10 Supersmart Musicians."[3]

Life and career[edit]

John Perry Barlow was born in Sublette County, Wyoming, to parents Norman Barlow, a Republican state legislator, and his wife, Miriam. He grew up on the 22,000-acre Bar Cross Ranch near Pinedale, Wyoming that was founded by his great uncle in 1907 and attended elementary school in a one-room schoolhouse. At age 15, he became a student at the Fountain Valley School in Colorado. Barlow met Bob Weir there, who would later join the music group the Grateful Dead. Weir and Barlow maintained contact throughout the years. As a frequent visitor to Timothy Leary's facility in Millbrook, New York, Barlow introduced the musical group to Leary in 1967. In 1969, Barlow graduated with high honors in comparative religion from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and spent two years traveling around India.[4] While on his way to California to reunite with the Grateful Dead in 1971, he stopped at his family's ranch, not intending to stay. He ended up changing his plans and began practicing animal husbandry in Cora, Wyoming, at the Bar Cross Land and Livestock Company for almost two decades before selling the business in 1988. In the meantime, Barlow was still able to play an active role in the Grateful Dead while recruiting many unconventional part-time ranch hands from the mainstream as well as the counterculture.[5] John Byrne Cooke is currently producing a film with the working title The Bar Cross Ranch, featuring this era.[6]

The seeds of the Barlow–Weir collaboration were sown at a Grateful Dead show at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York, in February 1971. Until then, Weir had mostly worked with resident Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Hunter preferred that those who sang his songs stick to his "canonical" lyrics rather than improvising additions or rearranging words. A feud erupted backstage over a couplet in "Sugar Magnolia" from the band's most recent release (most likely "She can dance a Cajun rhythm/Jump like a Willys in four-wheel drive"), culminating in a disgruntled Hunter summoning Barlow and telling him "take him (Weir)—he's yours."[7] In the fall of 1971, with a deal for a solo album in hand and only two songs completed, Weir and Barlow began to write together for the first time.

The twosome hammered out such enduring songs as "Cassidy," "Mexicali Blues," and "Black-Throated Wind," all three of which would remain in the repertoires of the Grateful Dead and Weir's varied solo projects for years to come. Other songs to emerge from the Weir-Barlow collaboration include "Let It Grow," "The Music Never Stopped," "Estimated Prophet," "I Need a Miracle," "Lost Sailor," "Saint of Circumstance," "Hell in a Bucket," "Throwing Stones" and "Picasso Moon." Barlow also collaborated with Grateful Dead keyboardists Brent Mydland and Vince Welnick.

In 1986 Barlow joined The WELL online community, then known for a strong Deadhead presence. He served on the company's board of directors for several years. In 1990, Barlow founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) along with fellow digital-rights activists John Gilmore and Mitch Kapor. As a founder of EFF, Barlow helped publicize the Secret Service raid on Steve Jackson Games. Barlow's involvement is later documented in the The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier (1992) by Bruce Sterling.[8] EFF later sponsored the ground-breaking case Steve Jackson Games, Inc. v. United States Secret Service. Steve Jackson Games won the case in 1993.

He married Elaine Parker Barlow in 1977, with whom he had three daughters: Amelia Rose, Anna Winter, and Leah Justine. Elaine and John separated in 1992 and officially divorced in 1995. In 2002, he helped his friend realtor/entrepreneur/[9]model[10]/actress[11] Simone Banos deliver her daughter Emma Victoria, who became his surrogate daughter henceforth.[12][13]

He was engaged to Dr. Cynthia Horner, whom he met in 1993 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco while she was attending a psychiatry conference and Barlow was participating in a Steve Jobs comedy roast at a convention for the NeXT Computer. She died unexpectedly in 1994 while asleep on a flight from Los Angeles to New York, days before her 30th birthday, from a heart arrhythmia apparently caused by undetected viral myocarditis. Barlow describes this experience on the 74th episode of This American Life, "Conventions," which originally aired on August 29, 1997.[14][15] Barlow had been a good friend of John F. Kennedy, Jr., ever since his mother Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had made arrangements for her son to be a wrangler at the Bar Cross ranch for six months in 1978, and later the two men went on many double dates in New York City with Kennedy's then-girlfriend Daryl Hannah[16] and Cynthia.[17]

In the September 1, 1995, article for the Shambhala Sun, "bell hooks talks to John Perry Barlow," Barlow reflects upon Cynthia Horner passing away: "It seems to me that what we’re here to do is to learn about love in the presence of fear... You pass away from the moment into the infinite, where there are no moments and where there’s no time. Here in an embodied state, the body, like all physical things, participates in entropy and all the other artifacts of time. There’s a thin but nevertheless impermeable membrane between the chronological and the timeless that has become much more real to me since my lover died a year ago. Even though I feel her soul, the absence of her body feels like an enormous barrier. The absence of the spoken word, the absence of the sound of her voice, or the touch of her skin. All the things that only can be done by souls with bodies on them... But you know the only time that I feel in contact with her, really, is when her spirit temporarily borrows someone else’s body to dance. Like the moment that you and I were dancing up in your apartment a few months ago. And suddenly she was in you and I could feel her there. You quit dancing the way you danced and started dancing the way she danced. And it was almost like a practical joke that she was playing in a way."[18]

In his piece "A Ladies' Man and Shameless," Barlow professes his love of many women at the same time, and summarizes the relationships in his personal life, "I doubt I’ll ever be monogamous again... I want to know as many more women as time and their indulgence will permit me... There are probably twenty-five or thirty women—I certainly don’t count them—for whom I feel an abiding and deep emotional attachment. They’re scattered all over the planet. They range in age from less than half to almost twice my own. Most of these relationships are not actively sexual. Some were at one time. More never will be. But most of them feel as if they could become so. I love the feel of that tension, the delicious gravity of possibilities."[19]

In 1996, Barlow was invited to speak about his work in cyberspace to a middle school classroom at North Shore Country Day School, which was a highly influential event in the early life of student Aaron Swartz, as Swartz's father Robert recalls Aaron coming home that day a changed person.[20][21] Although they were not close as adults, they shared many common causes and Barlow's face shows up clearly in the background of several shots in The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz.

In 2003, Barlow met the recently appointed Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil at the event Tactic Media Brazil to discuss the perspectives of digital inclusion and political participation, which in the following years would help shape Brazilian governmental policy on intellectual property and digital media.[22][23] In 2004, the two began working together to expand the availability and variety of Brazilian music to remix and share online. At the same time, being one of the Digerati, Barlow was among the very first users of the invitation-only social network Orkut at its inception, and decided to send all of his 100 invitations to friends in Brazil. Two years later, out of 14 million total internet users in Brazil, 11 million were on Orkut.[24]

Barlow is a friend and former roommate[25] of entrepreneur Sean Parker, and attended Parker's controversial 2013 wedding.[26]

Barlow's Maine Coon cat Buck

In 2014, Barlow suffered the loss of Buck, his beloved Maine Coon cat that he believed to be a bodhisattva[27] and who had many fans via social media.[28]

After a series of illnesses, Barlow suffered a near-fatal heart attack on May 27, 2015. He later reported via social media that he is recovering.[29] Following a "prolonged hospitalization," the John Perry Barlow Wellness Fund was established in October 2016 to allay outstanding medical bills and "provide the quality and consistency of care that is critical to Barlow’s recovery as he faces a variety of debilitating health conditions," including "extremely compromised mobility."[30] An October 11, 2016 concert to benefit the fund at Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, California featured such luminaries as Weir, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Jerry Harrison, Les Claypool, Robin Sylvester, Jeff Chimenti, Steve Kimock, Sean Lennon, Lukas Nelson and members of The String Cheese Incident.[31]


Barlow is a former chairman of the Sublette County Republican Party and served as western Wyoming campaign coordinator for Dick Cheney during his 1978 Congressional campaign. Although he has lauded Cheney as "the smartest man I’ve ever met" with "the possible exception of Bill Gates," Barlow subsequently renounced Cheney due to his perceived repudiation of environmental and civil rights issues, opining that "Dick's votes... were parts of complex deals aimed at enhancing his own power... [H]e has the least interest in human beings of anyone I have ever met."[32][33]

Barlow was President of the Wyoming Outdoor Council from 1978 to 1984. He was Chairman of the Sublette County Master Plan Design Commission and on the Sublette County Planning and Zoning for many years and was one of 5 ranchers who administered water distribution in the New Fork Irrigation District, an area of nearly 100,000 acres serving about 35 ranchers.[34]

By the early 2000s, Barlow was unable to reconcile his ardent libertarianism with the prevailing neoconservative movement and "didn't feel tempted to vote for Bush"; in 2004, he said that he was "voting for John Kerry, though with little enthusiasm."[35] Barlow has subsequently declared that he is a Republican, most notably during an appearance on The Colbert Report on March 26, 2007,[36][37] and has also claimed on many occasions to be an anarchist.[38] Barlow has said he voted for Natural Law Party Presidential candidate John Hagelin in 2000 after discovering in the voting booth that his friend Nat Goldhaber was Hagelin's running mate.[35] He said in 2004: "I'm embarrassed for my country that in my entire voting life, there has never been a major-party candidate whom I felt I could vote for. All of my presidential votes, whether for George Wallace, Dick Gregory, or John Hagelin, have been protest votes."[35] In November 2016, Barlow condemned Donald Trump, characterizing him as a "thorough creep" and "toxic asshole" in a Facebook "micromanifesto."[39]

Current work[edit]

Barlow continues to serve on the EFF's board of directors, where he is currently listed as a co-founder after previously serving as vice chairman.[40] The EFF was designed to mediate the "inevitable conflicts that have begun to occur on the border between Cyberspace and the physical world."[41] They were trying to build a legal wall that would separate and protect the Internet from territorial government, and especially from the US government.[42]

In 2012, Barlow was one of the founders of the EFF-related organization the Freedom of the Press Foundation and also currently serves on its Board of Directors.[43] Barlow has had several public conversations via video conference with fellow Freedom of the Press Foundation Board of Directors member Edward Snowden,[44][45] and has appeared in interviews with Julian Assange of WikiLeaks touting Snowden as "a Hero."[46]

He is a Fellow Emeritus of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, a past member of the advisory board of Diamond Management & Technology Consultants (1994–2008),[47] and a member of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. Additionally, he was previously affiliated with the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland as a "professor of cyberspace."[48] He spends much of his time on the road, lecturing and consulting about civil rights, freedom of speech, the state of the internet and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He delivered lectures and panel discussions at TWiT Live,[49] TedxHamburg, Hamburg (Germany),[50] Greenfest SF,[51] Civitas (Norwegian think tank),[52] Internet Society (NY Chapter, New York),[53] the USC Center on Public Diplomacy,[54] and the European Graduate School (EGS), Saas-Fee, Switzerland.[55] On September 16, 2012, he presented at TEDxSantaCruz, in Santa Cruz, California.[56] On September 8, 2014, Barlow was the first speaker in the Art, Activism, and Technology: The 50th Anniversary of the Free Speech Movement colloquium series at University of California, Berkeley.[57]

Barlow also serves on the advisory boards of the Marijuana Policy Project,[58] Clear Path International, TTI/Vanguard, the project,[59] the stakeholder engagement non-profit Future 500 and the global company Touch Light Media[60] founded by Anita Ondine. He is a collaborator on the WetheData project founded by Juliette Powell.[61]

He is listed as Vice President at Algae Systems, a Nevada-based company with a working demo-scale pilot plant in Daphne, Alabama, dedicated to commercializing novel methods at the water-energy nexus for growing microalgae offshore as a second-generation biofuels feedstock and converting it to useful crude via hydrothermal liquefaction, while simultaneously treating wastewater, reducing carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere, and producing biochar.[62] At Startup Grind Jackson Hole on March 13, 2015, Barlow said that he was motivated to team up with Algae Systems after undergoing back surgery to address pain from an old ranching injury, while he had been an advisor to Herb Allison (president of Merrill Lynch at the time) and working to completely "electronify" financial transactions and speculative asset assembly (Barlow was named "One of the 25 Most Influential People in Financial Services" in the June 1999 issue of FutureBanker Magazine[63]). The surgery successfully alleviated the pain and catalyzed Barlow to change his focus from building wealth to building infrastructure in order to do something about the “amount of alterations we are already enacting on Planet Earth... We are not necessarily making it warmer, but weirder.” At Startup Grind Jackson Hole, Barlow also explained how once over tea with “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement” Mardy Murie, he was inspired by her words, “Environmentalists can be a pain in the ass... But they make great ancestors.” Adopting this philosophy, Barlow says, “I want to be a good ancestor."[64]

For several years, Barlow has attended Burning Man and led a town hall meeting with Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey about "the current state Practical Anarchy at Burning Man."[65][66] General Wesley Clark caused a stir in the media when he attended Burning Man in 2013 and spent time with Barlow and Harvey.[67]

Barlow has played a role in many films and television shows, both as an actor and as himself.[68] Interviews with Barlow have been featured in documentaries such as the Tao Ruspoli-directed film Monagamish (under production),[69] Bits & Bytes (under production),[70][71] and Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary.[72][73]

The iPhone app Detour released in February 2015 by Groupon founder and ex-CEO Andrew Mason features a 75-minute audio tour narrated by Barlow as he walks through the Tenderloin neighborhood in downtown San Francisco.[74][75][76]

John Perry Barlow serving as wedding minister at Mount Tamalpais on July 11, 2014

Barlow is a self-ordained minister who performs baptisms and weddings.[77][78]


From 1971 until 1995, Barlow wrote lyrics for the Grateful Dead, mostly through his relationship with Bob Weir. Among others, Barlow's songs include "Cassidy" (about Neal Cassady and Cassidy Law),[79] "Estimated Prophet," "Black-Throated Wind," "Hell in a Bucket," "Mexicali Blues," "The Music Never Stopped," and "Throwing Stones."

Barlow has written extensively for Wired magazine, as well as The New York Times, Nerve, and Communications of the ACM. In his writings, he explained the wonder of the Internet. The Internet to him is more than a computer network. It is a place that he called an "electronic frontier."[1] "He frequently wrote in language that echoed Henry Stanley's African diary. ‘Imagine discovering a continent so vast that it may have no end to its dimensions. Imagine a new world with more resources than all our future greed might exhaust, more opportunities than there will ever be entrepreneurs enough to exploit, and a peculiar kind of real estate that expands with development. Imagine a place where trespassers leave no footprints, where goods can be stolen infinite number of times and yet remain in the possession of their original owners, where business you never heard of can own the history of your personal affairs.’"[80] He wanted to encourage and provoke youngsters to explore the cyberspace through his writing.

His writings include "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace," which was written in response to the enactment of the Communications Decency Act in 1996 as the EFF saw the law as a threat to the independence and sovereignty of cyberspace. He argued that the cyberspace legal order would reflect the ethical deliberation of the community instead of the coercive power that characterized real-space governance.[81] Since online "identities have no bodies," they found it inappropriate to obtain order in the cyberspace by physical coercion.[82] Instead ethics, enlightened self-interest and the commonwealth were the elements they believed to create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace.[81] An article published in April 2015 by Paper magazine recounts the events surrounding this piece:

Barlow's prescient Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace was written at the World Economic Forum, where he had been invited to speak and was late on a deadline for the book 24 Hours in Cyberspace. "I was there to be a dancing bear because they had just discovered the Internet and they wanted to show how hip they were," he says. "We had passed the Communications Decency Act, which would have made it a felony and up to a $100,000 fine using such words that I had heard used many times in the Senate cafeteria. It was just the most ridiculous. I was simply stating that it was going to be very difficult for the physical world to impose sovereignty on cyberspace. Even though the relationship of cyberspace to the physical world is exactly that of mind and body, it is difficult for the body to locate the mind and impose anything on it."

He was at a party with a lot of hot women, he recalls, running back and forth from the dance floor as the words struck him. He never did make the deadline, but the Declaration was completed. "I sent it out to my friends, about 400 people, the Barlow spam list, people that didn't have anything in common except that I liked them and had their email address. First thing I've ever seen go viral. It was everywhere overnight.[83]

Later, articles such as "The Economy of Ideas" were also widely circulated in providing a vision for human creativity online.

In his 1990 piece "Crime and Puzzlement: in advance of the law on the electronic frontier," Barlow wrote about his first-hand experience with Phiber Optik (Mark Abene) and Acid Phreak (Eli Ladopoulos) from the hackers group Masters of Deception, and mentions Kevin Mitnick, all of whom were engaged in phone phreaking.[84] The title alludes to Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.[85]

Barlow is credited for modern popularization of the concept of pronoia and was considered a celebrity ally of the Zippy Pronoia Tour in 1994.[86][87]

In 1998, Barlow wrote the article "Africa Rising: Everything You Know About Africa Is Wrong" for Wired, which documented the start of his extensive travels as he worked to expand Internet access across the continent: "I went from Mombasa to Tombouctou, experiencing various parts of Kenya, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Mali, Uganda, and the Virunga volcano area where Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo meet. Part of the idea was that I would attempt to email Wired a series of dispatches on my travels. The act of finding a port into cyberspace would be part of the adventure... Before I left, I believed Africans could proceed directly from the agricultural epoch into an information economy without having to submit to the dreary indignities and social pathologies of industrialization."[88]

Barlow has also returned to writing lyrics, most recently with The String Cheese Incident's mandolinist and vocalist Michael Kang, including their song "Desert Dawn." Barlow has been seen many times with Carolyn Garcia (whose monologue is dubbed on the eponymous track "Mountain Girl"[89]) at their concerts mixing with the fans and members in the band, and is a close friend of String Cheese Incident producer Jerry Harrison. He also participated with the Chicago-based jam band Mr. Blotto on their release Barlow Shanghai. Barlow is a Spiritual Mentor/Student of Kemp Muhl and Sean Lennon,[90] collaborating with their band The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger and making a cameo in their 2014 music video "Animals."[91]

Principles of Adult Behavior[edit]

On August 15, 2013, Barlow participated in a Reddit AMA,[92][93] where he shared his "Principles of Adult Behavior," which were originally written in 1977 on the eve of his 30th birthday and have been in circulation ever since:

  1. Be patient. No matter what.
  2. Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him in the same language and tone of voice.
  3. Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
  4. Expand your sense of the possible.
  5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.
  6. Expect no more of anyone than you can deliver yourself.
  7. Tolerate ambiguity.
  8. Laugh at yourself frequently.
  9. Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.
  10. Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.
  11. Give up blood sports.
  12. Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously.
  13. Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)
  14. Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
  15. Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.
  16. Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.
  17. Praise at least as often as you disparage.
  18. Admit your errors freely and soon.
  19. Become less suspicious of joy.
  20. Understand humility.
  21. Remember that love forgives everything.
  22. Foster dignity.
  23. Live memorably.
  24. Love yourself.
  25. Endure.


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