Cognitive Dissident: John Perry Barlow

Utne Visionary and Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow has been part of every countercultural movement since the ?50s, from beatnik to cyberpunk. In a wide-ranging interview with Tim Dickinson, the man who popularized the term ?cyberspace? discusses the Total Information Awareness project, online activism, file sharing, and the prospect of a digital counterculture. Here are a few choice bits:

On the feasibility of preempting terrorism through data-mining, as convicted Iran-Contra conspirator John Poindexter recently proposed:

?The thing that spooks me about the Total Information Awareness program is that that it?s inside DARPA [the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency]. And unlike the CIA or the NSA, DARPA has a great track record of actually going out and making big technology happen?because they?re small, they?re light, they?re anti-bureaucratic, they?re engineering minded. And Poindexter may be a convicted felon but he?s a very, very smart guy. So while I?d like to say there?s no way that this is going to happen under any other circumstances, I?m less assured of that at the moment.?

On the prospect of a digital counterculture:

?I started out as a teenage beatnik and then became a hippie and then became a cyberpunk. And now I?m still a member of the counterculture, but I don?t know what to call that. And I?d been inclined to think that that was a good thing, because once the counterculture in America gets a name then the media can coopt it, and the advertising industry can turn it into a marketing foil. But you know, right now I?m not sure that it is a good thing, because we don?t have any flag to rally around. Without a name there may be no coherent movement.?

On being a pathological optimist:

?Somebody came up to me after a talk I gave recently in London, and he said to me that there?s something entertaining about watching a pathological optimist try to be pessimistic. [Laughs.] And he had a point. I?m basically an optimistic person. And lately I?ve been thinking a lot about groundless hope?which in some respects may be the only kind there is. If your hope has good reasons attached to it, then maybe it?s just a form of planning. I think that election was a consequence of people becoming hopeless. If people had hope they?d vote.?

?Leif Utne

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