A Utopian Cyberspace

Last week I read John Perry Barlow’s A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, a piece that was written seventeen years ago but still is very relevant to today’s issues with cyberspace. The first thing I thought of when reading Barlow’s work was web censorship, and the fears that come with that like the blocking of too many websites. If you want a fine example of government intervention take a look at China and how much internet and information is blocked for them; anything that contains rumours against the government can and will be shut down. They don’t have websites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, IMDB, Google, and you wouldn’t be able to access this blog over there as WordPress is also blocked. So much for the “governments of the industrial world  … leaving us alone”

Things have changed since Barlow created this utopian view of cyberspace. If only cyberspace is how Barlow has described it in his writing, no prejudice or online bullying as we know it, only a place to express yourself and be accepted for who you are even if your views are not widely accepted. No having to pay for things people have created, although  most people do this anyway in our current cyberspace, and then there is a series of problems along with this like what would be the incentive to create new things if the monetary value for it was lost?

Barlow’s A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace was a very interesting read, it raises so many issues that have come with cyberspace and in some ways Cyberspace has gone the complete opposite way to what Barlow has hoped. 

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6 comments

  1. Although most of the social networking site are blocked in China, but they have their version of FB, Twitter etc, but i do agree it is a good example of showing government censorship. I also agree with you that Barlow’s view of cyberspace is not how the reality is, cyber crime such as hacking has been an issue for a very long time, compare to Barlow’s view, i think cyberpunks have a better prediction and description of the current cyberspace.

  2. I really like how you pointed out that the utopia Barlow described is unrealised. Governments has so much regulation guarding their citizen’s access to the freedom of the internet. There are ways around China’s censorship but it is such a shame that they are needed already. Especially for something like Facebook that is meant for individual expression and connection.

  3. Your post appeals to me, as it is one of the few that explores the moderating of content in a negative light. The examples of Chinese censorship are very true and relevant and bring light to the fact that this debate is complicated and there is no simple binary opinion. I myself have a dystopian view of cyberspace, and see much (definitely not all) moderation as a way of improving our experience – for example deleting homophobic YouTube comments, or disabling racist forum threads. However as we have both said, there is no easy answer.

  4. Great blog and I agree that Barlow’s thoughts are still relevant today but it is interesting to compare his views with the views of people today. I do believe that when the concept of the internet was first concieved people truly thought that it would be a utopia where opinions would be valued and people would be accepted. However, with free will comes corruption, and with corruption comes control. Like so many things in life that were produced for positive intents, the internet has been turned into a weapon that both defends and attacks.

  5. Yeah, I have to say that Barlow’s ‘Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’, that despite its smug tone, it came across as quite naive to me. When he suggests that Cyberspace should be a place free from the government (“You are not welcome among us”), he seems to forget that the Internet was a military invention. The government has always been there and always will be. A secondly, consider the ideals Barlow put forth, thats not really the Cyberspace I recognise today. Its used for learning and enlightening ourselves, as well as incredibly mundane activites. It’s used for good and bad purposes. And it doesnt really exist seperate to reality, but as an extension for the most part.
    So like you said, in the 17 years since Barlow wrote his declaration, cyberspace has gone in the opposite direction that maybe he had envisioned. 🙂

  6. I agree with above, great blog, it was clear and didn’t have fluff around it, just got to the point, thanks for making something pleasant to read. I also think that Barlow’s utopia doesn’t stand up in today’s monetary obsessed society, however, I also think there is something that we’re missing in Barlow’s prediciton. If elements on the web were free to be used by anyone, then there’s no limit to what we can create in the tangible world. Our mind and the internet are endless, but the finite substances we use to create products are what we make and can use for currency. I think it coul work.

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