Newmedia on Thu, 8 Feb 2018 11:40:38 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> FW: John Barlow, Debbie and Me (plus Nettime)



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On the eve of my 70th birthday, John Perry Barlow, who was 4 months older and sometimes described as my "nemesis," passed away.  RIP, cyber-comrade.  In the interest of living memories, here's a JPB story (or two).

In mid-1994, the Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF) -- which was a spin-off from Newt Gingrich's GOPAC political action committee -- published its "Cyberspace and the American Dream: A Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age," just ahead of Newt's sweeping election victory in November, making him Speaker of the House.  It was written by Esther Dyson, George Gilder, George "Jay" Keyworth, and Alvin Toffler (whose protege Newt had once been in his West Georgia Esalen days) and it began with "The central event of the 20th century is the overthrow of matter . . . "

In mid-1995, PFF threw its coming-out party with what became an annual "Aspen Summit" at the St. Regis.  According to PFF, "Wired News has compared the Aspen Summit to the annual Davos event in Switzerland and the Renaissance Weekend at Hilton Head."  Both John and I were among the 20+ invited speakers in 1995, sitting at the main tables, surrounded by an audience of 200-or-so.  By that time, John and I had known each other from from events like Esther's "PC Forum," where I had made a nuisance of myself by questioning the basis for John and Mitch Kapor's Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF, formed in 1990).

Sometime between my invitation and the PFF Summit, it had been decided that I was a "trouble-maker," so the conference chair, Jeff Eisenach had pre-arranged with John (who later told me he brought my troubling behavior to Jeff's attention) to block my ability to speak.  Everyone was supposed to raise their hand and Jeff would make a list -- however, whenever I raised my hand so did John and when Eisenach went through the list he skipped me and called on John and not me.  My response was to cross my arms and pull my hat down over my eyes, in silent protest.

CSPAN cameras were rolling and, little did I know, Debbie Newman, with whom I'd had one "date" was watching.  We had met at a "Cybersuds" party for NYNMA, where perhaps 3,000+ (including John and his entourage) danced the night away at the Roxy and Debbie wanted to meet whoever "started this party."  Apparently my "bad boy" demonstration caught her eye so when I invited her to join me on Nantucket -- where I went after Aspen to write an "expose" on Toffler/Grigrich's "Anticipatory Democracy" movement (later circulated privately on the Hill and contributing to Newt's ouster) --  she agreed.  As I recall, we played some Grateful Dead on the beach.

Twenty-three years later, we're still together.  Thanks John (I couldn't have done it myself) . . . !!


P.S. In mid-1996, I got an out-of-the-blue phonecall from Budapest.  It was Diana McCarthy on the line and she said "How would you like to come to Budapest to speak at our MetaForum III conference?  We've got a plane ticket ready for you!" (paid for by a local Internet entrepreneur interested in my Wall Street insights).  I had never heard of nettime but agreed to show up and "keynote" -- around which festivities Debbie and I then planned to tour the capitals of the Holy Roman Empire: Vienna, Prague and Budapest (where we stayed in a suite at the Gellert and enjoyed their Art Noveau baths).

Once again, I have John Barlow to thank.  Earlier that year, while at Davos, John had penned his "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace" (following through on the "Magna Carta" theme)  -- which began by saying "Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of the Mind . . . "  This got John an invitation to MetaForum II and, according to reports, he drove there from Davos in a convertible with "two blonds."   Apparently John didn't make a very good impression -- so I was invited to the next event as the anti-Barlow.  The only blond I brought along was Debbie.

Diana kindly invited me to join the nettime "Zentral Kommittee," where I learned that the local Soros group had told nettime they couldn't do this anymore unless they folded into the OSF efforts (leading to the 1997 "Beauty and the East" at Soros' offices in Llubljana).  In Budapest, I also met Richard Barbrook (leading to my 1996 "Wired Magazine and the English Ideology" reply to his "Californian Ideology") and Manuel Delanda (leading to our jointly organized 1998-2000 "Non-Linear Circle" salon, from which he quickly dropped out).  Erik Davis was also there (talking up his "Techgnosis") and Debbie, Manuel, Erik and I stuffed into a cab to drive out to the Stalinist-era "Statue Park." 

Perhaps because I video-taped some of the conference (tourist that I was), many involved decided that I must have been working for the CIA -- which Diana asked me about when we happened into each other again in Budapest in 2004.  "No," I told her, "although I did once do a 'job' for them, warning Bill Gates that the 1998 Microsoft anti-trust case was actually aimed at him -- since he had been declared a 'national security threat' for refusing to put serious security into Windows."  I got a nice 10-course dinner with Nathan Myrvold out of that (plus a "veiled" writeup in PC Magazine, since the NYTimes wasn't interested) and had some fun with Joel Klein (who "ran" the DoJ side of the case, which was actually managed by those who he said "gave me a secret code to follow what they were doing.")

RIP, cyber-comrade, those were good times  . . . <g>



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