Co-founder of EFF, John Perry Barlow, dead at 70

“The Internet we all know and love today exists and thrives because of Barlow’s vision.”


John Perry Barlow, a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, rancher, and lyricist for the Grateful Dead, died Wednesday at the age of 70.

The San Francisco-based digital rights advocacy organization said that it was mourning the loss of its co-founder.

“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,” Cindy Cohn, the group’s executive director, wrote in a blog post. “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.”

Barlow was born in Sublette County, Wyoming, the son of Miriam and Norman Barlow, a Republican state legislator. At the age of 15, at a school in Colorado, he met Bob Weir, who later joined the Grateful Dead. By the age of 20, in 1967, he was frequenting Timothy Leary’s facility and began taking LSD.

By 1971, he returned after a few years of bouncing around back to Wyoming, where he worked on the Bar Cross Ranch where he grew up. What was intended as a short stint ended up being a nearly 20-year stay.

In the late 1980s, Barlow joined The WELL, an early online community—where his rural libertarian and psychedelic roots began to gel with a nascent, technology-fueled reality. That’s where he met Mitch Kapor, who was fresh off his success of creating Lotus 1-2-3, an influential early spreadsheet application.

“He’s the one that came up with the metaphor of the electronic frontier,” Kapor told Ars with reverence, referring to the organization that they co-founded, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in 1990.

“We were a well-matched pair,” Kapor said. “We complemented each other. He was visionary and outrageous and outspoken, and I brought entrepreneurial skills and I knew how to start things and run them and I had money.”
“The edge of cyberspace”

Kapor said that the EFF was designed to make sure that the Constitution did not “end at the edge of cyberspace, and I think if we had not [created the EFF], a different set of precedents would have been set.”

In the early 1990s, Barlow wrote for Wired magazine and eventually penned the Cyberspace Independence Declaration.

Cohn told Ars that in recent years, even in poor health, Barlow made a point of attending quarterly EFF meetings, where he remained on the board. She said that all of EFF will miss him.

“What he saw in the early Internet was the idea that we could transcend our bodies and transcend our bodies, regardless of who we were or where we were,” she told Ars.

“I think that Barlow was the archetype of that. It was a kind and a generation of people who were looking to transcend the boundaries of what kept us behind.”

She said that his memoir, Mother American Night, was recently completed, and is due out in June 2018.