Jeff Mogul: So. I’m already run­ning a lit­tle late. I’d like to now intro­duce our keynote speak­er. And let me start by explain­ing that our keynote speak­er, John Perry Barlow, has a some­what unusu­al career for a com­put­er sci­ence con­fer­ence keynote speak­er. He start­ed as a cat­tle ranch­er in Wyoming. He’s been the Republican Party coun­ty chair of his area in Wyoming. He also has been a lyri­cist for the Grateful Dead. More recent­ly he’s one of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. And he’s been active writ­ing about civ­il lib­er­ties issues in cyber­space. He has a col­umn in CACM, Mondo 2000, Wired…he was in mag­a­zines that I’ve lost track of.

He’s a very inter­est­ing speak­er and I think we should just give him the next hour and ten min­utes or so of our time. We will by the way tak­ing ques­tions from peo­ple in the MBONE. Unfortunately we did­n’t set this up quite far enough in advance so we’ll have to have you mail your ques­tions to mbone@​usenix.​org for John and we will [indis­tinct] those, put them on paper, and read some of the ques­tions lat­er on. But with­out fur­ther ado, I’d like to intro­duce John Perry Barlow.


John Perry Barlow: Over the last four or five years since I left the cat­tle busi­ness, I’ve start­ed to feel like my life has turned into a Thomas Pynchon nov­el. And weird expe­ri­ences are so numer­ous that I don’t even keep track of them any­more but I’ve got to say, for some­body who spent most of his work­ing career push­ing cows around this is a very weird audi­ence for me to be address­ing. [laugh­ter]

You peo­ple are great, though. I hon­est­ly believe with­out hyper­bole that peo­ple in this room are doing things which will change the world more than any­thing since the cap­ture of fire, in terms of what it is to be a human being. And I’ll jus­ti­fy that very broad state­ment here as I go along.

But I’m not entire­ly unqual­i­fied to think and talk about wild places. I come from a part of Wyoming which is… The coun­ty I live in is larg­er than the Netherlands and has a pop­u­la­tion of thirty-five hun­dred at the moment. And is the focal point of the his­to­ry of the fur trade. And the fur trade was an eco­nom­ic man­i­fes­ta­tion that came into the West in the 1820s and 30s. And many of its con­stituents would be famil­iar to you. They were kind of a frac­tious lot of mis­fits. Opinionated lon­ers. They were some­what irreg­u­lar in their…both their eat­ing habits and their per­son­al hygiene. [laugh­ter] They were hairy and anar­chis­tic. They were smart. They cre­at­ed a soci­ety which was large­ly self-organizing. And they were explor­ing unmapped ter­ri­to­ry using tools that they devel­oped them­selves for get­ting around. And I would to try to draw a close par­al­lel between them and the peo­ple in this room but I think that will be unnec­es­sary.

So, when I first start­ed to put my head into cyber­space it was not as unfa­mil­iar to me as it is to a lot of folks who are now get­ting into that area, because it had a lot of the char­ac­ter­is­tics that still remain cul­tur­al­ly in my odd lit­tle part of the world. And I could see that a num­ber of things were going to go on in there, one of which if his­to­ry was to be any guide was that after a very free soci­ety had devel­oped nat­u­ral­ly in a very pret­ty place, then anoth­er soci­ety would come and try to make mon­ey off of it. And in the course of try­ing to make mon­ey off of it would impose an awful lot of con­trol.

There has been a lot of unfor­tu­nate talk about the nation­al infor­ma­tion infra­struc­ture being a data superhighway—this is large­ly an arti­fact of the fact that Al Gore’s father was instru­men­tal in cre­at­ing the inter­state high­way sys­tem. And it’s no mis­take that Al Gore likes that metaphor. But in fact what has been going on late­ly reminds me a lot more of the devel­op­ment of the rail­road in this coun­try. It is not a data super­high­way so much as a data rail­road sys­tem that we seem to be devel­op­ing. And there is a cau­tion­ary tale in there because the folks, Jay Gould and his fel­low bar­bar­ians who cre­at­ed the rail­way sys­tem in the West, knew that if they owned the roadbed and the area around it, they also essen­tial­ly owned the soci­ety that was going to devel­op there because they could tear up what­ev­er prod­ucts were cre­at­ed in that soci­ety on the basis of their own whim.

And the West today is still try­ing to get out from under­neath the bur­den of reg­u­la­tion and legal stan­dard­iza­tion that was cre­at­ed in those ear­ly days by the rail­road barons. It was almost impos­si­ble for farm­ers in the upper Midwest to make a liv­ing for a while even though the Northern Pacific Railroad had asked them to come in there and set­tle for noth­ing and had giv­en them land. As soon as they got estab­lished on that land, they were charged usu­ri­ous rates for trans­port­ing their their prod­uct to mar­ket. And I think if we look at the his­to­ry of the rail­road we can see exact­ly what kind of dam­age occurs when you give too few peo­ple con­trol over too much of the econ­o­my.

Actually I real­ly think that it’s far more use­ful to look at the devel­op­ment of the Internet in bio­log­i­cal rather than struc­tur­al terms. The Internet to me seems very much like a life­form. It has all those char­ac­ter­is­tics. It is self-organizing. It adapts itself read­i­ly into the pos­si­bil­i­ty space that it finds. It is being cre­at­ed in an inter­ac­tive way, out at the mar­gins rather than in the cen­ter. I’ve heard Unix described as a virus from out­er space. But it’s very much like a virus, I think. But it’s more a virus from inner space, the space inside the cere­bral cav­i­ties of many of the peo­ple in this room.

Among the notable char­ac­ter­is­tics of the Internet, out­side of explo­sive growth, is the extent to which it can nat­u­ral­ly route itself around prob­lems. John Gilmore, who may be here and is prob­a­bly known to many of you, said some­thing pro­found when he said that the Internet deals with cen­sor­ship as a mal­func­tion. And it real­ly does. You see peo­ple try­ing to stop the traf­fic in cer­tain kinds of intel­lec­tu­al mate­r­i­al on the Internet, and it sim­ply routes itself around it and gets that mate­r­i­al dis­trib­uted by some oth­er path­way.

Unfortunately, the folks who are now enter­ing into the game, and to a more pre­cise extent the orga­ni­za­tions and insti­tu­tions that are now enter­ing into the game, are very dif­fer­ent from what has pre­vi­ous­ly char­ac­ter­ized the devel­op­ment of net­works in the world. And they come at this with a dif­fer­ent par­a­digm of how the world works, and how to cre­ate order. They came at it with the notion that order is some­thing that you impose and not some­thing that emerges. They come at it think­ing about their prod­ucts as being some­thing that are focused and cen­tral­ized, require large amounts of cap­i­tal to cre­ate, and then broad­cast in a one-to-many medi­um.

I don’t think that these are nec­es­sar­i­ly bad peo­ple. But they have a very hard time get­ting it. Most of the folks that I talk to from the tele­vi­sion indus­try think that inter­ac­tive tele­vi­sion con­sists of putting a buy” but­ton on your chan­nel click­er. [laugh­ter] I’m not kid­ding. I wish I were.

And they fail to under­stand that there is a pro­found dif­fer­ence between infor­ma­tion and expe­ri­ence. And they are try­ing to sell non-inter­ac­tive, stored infor­ma­tion as though it were expe­ri­ence. And I think they actu­al­ly believe that they’re accom­plish­ing that task.

They are going to try, in many ways, some of them overt, some of them unknown even to them­selves, to impose their cul­ture and their their metaphors in this envi­ron­ment. And there are all sorts of ways in which their immune response sys­tem is already work­ing and I’ll give you just one exam­ple.

I was recent­ly talk­ing to some­body from Viacom about the impor­tance of cre­at­ing inter­op­er­abil­i­ty between what­ev­er set-top box­es Viacom was spon­sor­ing and oth­er kinds of net­work­ing, specif­i­cal­ly the Internet. And I talked about TCP/IP with this fel­low from Viacom. And he said, Well, we would love to be able to incor­po­rate TCP/IP but real­ly it’s just too slow. The pack­ets are just too big. It can’t be made to be isochro­nous. We real­ly don’t think that it has a place on top of your tele­vi­sion set.”

And while that may seem like an irrel­e­vant fac­tor to many of you who prob­a­bly don’t even own a tele­vi­sion set, if we are to cre­ate a soci­ety on the Internet that is gen­uine­ly inclu­sive and does­n’t con­sist of its present sort of large band of wild geese, we are going to have to make it so that you can get Internet con­nec­tion from that elec­tron­ic device which is your prin­ci­ple access point into cyber­space and that is liable to be that set-top box.

The folks in the tele­vi­sion and enter­tain­ment busi­ness are also intrigued by the pos­si­bil­i­ty that the rail­road­ers first con­front­ed, which is that they are going to build the roadbed, essen­tial­ly, and they’re also going to be in the infor­ma­tion busi­ness. And it’s not lost on them that if you own the rails and are also ship­ping the car­go that you get a real­ly good deal on your rates. And that oth­er peo­ple may not get a very good deal, espe­cial­ly if you feel them to be in com­pe­ti­tion with you.

This has giv­en rise to a whole set of con­cerns and prob­lems which the Electronic Frontier Foundation is now deal­ing with. You know, EFF did not start out to be some kind of a traf­fic cop on the data super­high­way. That was­n’t our objec­tive. A the time that Mitchell Kapor and I start­ed EFF, we had a very nar­row set of con­cerns. We just thought that there were actions tak­ing place on the part of the gov­ern­ment that made it clear that they did­n’t quite real­ize that speech was speech, whether it was expressed in bits or ink on the page. And we felt like real­ly all we were going to have to do was to hire a few real­ly scary civ­il lib­er­ties attor­neys in New York and kick hell out of the Secret Service, and dust our hands off in sat­is­fac­tion and go back to what­ev­er it was we were doing.

But, we had­n’t been at this very long before I got some elec­tron­ic mail from a young fel­low who was in what at that time was still the Soviet Union say­ing, Well, I applaud what you and Mr. Kapor are doing in try­ing to assure the appli­ca­tion of the First Amendment to cyber­space, but you should real­ize that in cyber­space the First Amendment is a local ordi­nance.”

And that was a rev­e­la­tion to me. And also to Mitch and we start­ed think­ing about what had to be done, on a struc­tur­al rather than legal lev­el, to make cer­tain that peo­ple who con­nect­ed to one anoth­er elec­tron­i­cal­ly were able to do so with­out fear of reprisal for the things that they might think and say. Mitch said some­thing pro­found at one point, which is that archi­tec­ture is pol­i­tics. And when I say that to some­thing like the TV Academy, they don’t have the slight­est idea what I’m talk­ing about, but I’ll bet the peo­ple in this room know that very well. And it’s a mes­sage that I think you need to start car­ry­ing to the world in a much more for­ward and proac­tive way than is your nat­ur­al bend. I know that when I’ve talked to com­put­er audi­ences at times in the past, I’ve had a con­tin­u­ous ques­tion and com­plaint from peo­ple in the room who say, Well you know, you want me to behave as though I were a social philoso­pher, and actu­al­ly what I do is bus archi­tec­ture.”

Well…exactly. [laugh­ter; applause] And I don’t think that you can expect the social philoso­phers to under­stand bus archi­tec­ture very very well for a while, either. So the job falls to you and the peo­ple who under­stand the basic nature of this very very dif­fer­ent ter­rain.

When I was down in Los Angeles last week I went to some­thing that some of you may have heard about, which was the Superhighway Super Summit. You nev­er saw such self-importance in your life. It was unbe­liev­able. This has noth­ing to do with any­thing except it’s more evi­dence that I’m in a Thomas Pynchon nov­el. As a guest of the White House I had a packed which includ­ed a dis­crete lit­tle card said that Those per­sons who will be accom­pa­nied by a per­son­al secu­ri­ty assis­tant are remind­ed that their assis­tant may not car­ry his weapon while in the build­ing.” And there were also two park­ing pass­es, one for reg­u­lar cars and one for lim­ou­sines. So, they knew a fair amount about the cul­ture that they were pitch­ing to down there.

And the idea that this par­tic­u­lar set of hooli­gans was going to be in charge was ter­ri­fy­ing to me. In spite of the fact that to my sur­prise and sat­is­fac­tion, I found peo­ple like John Malone say­ing all the right things. And it was very grat­i­fy­ing to see that the things that EFF was pret­ty much alone in say­ing two years ago are now polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect. But there’s a great dis­tance between being able to mouth the polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect thing and actu­al­ly hav­ing the kind of con­scious­ness that will pro­mote those goals in a seri­ous way. These folks are in busi­ness. They’re not in it for their health.

And I looked around that audi­ence, and I real­ized that what I was look­ing at was per­haps the ulti­mate expres­sion of con­tem­po­rary civ­i­liza­tion. Which made me start to think that…you know, while Mitch and I had always talked about the job of EFF as being sym­bol­iz­ing the elec­tron­ic fron­tier, I think that our job and your job increas­ing­ly is going to be frontier-izing civ­i­liza­tion. [applause] Because I believe that as a species we have gone just about as far as we can go by design. If we’re going to try to design soci­ety from the top, we will con­tin­ue to have the sort of results that they had in the Soviet Union, and at IBM. [laugh­ter; applause] The world is sim­ply too com­plex a place to fig­ure out. It’s pret­ty good at fig­ur­ing itself out, as long as you have an extreme­ly open archi­tec­ture, basi­cal­ly an ecol­o­gy or ecosys­tem, which sup­ports ideas in a flu­id and nutri­tious kind of way. And that’s one of the great genius­es of Unix. I mean, I have a NeXT machine— (I expect a boo” or two.) That’s as close to Unix as I’ve been able to get, and that’s kind of like Unix with train­ing wheels by Armani. [laugh­ter; applause]

I have no per­son­al aspi­ra­tions to you know, write a lot of shell scripts and I still kind of feel like C++ must be just an excep­tion­al­ly excep­tion­al­ly mediocre report card [inaudi­ble due to audi­ence laugh­ter]. But Unix, if you look at the devel­op­ment of Unix over the course of its exis­tence it’s real­ly tru­ly remark­able how this crit­ter has grown. I think of it some­times as being the 1990s equiv­a­lent of Chartres Cathedral, where thou­sands of peo­ple worked for many years cre­at­ing some­thing that was amaz­ing­ly com­plex, and yet some­how worked rather ele­gant­ly to the pur­pos­es for which it had been cre­at­ed. I look at Unix as it con­tin­ues to devel­op and I think that it will con­tin­ue for a long time to be the genet­ic code of cyber­space. And you have to approach your work, I think, with that in mind. Of course the gov­ern­ment and the large enter­tain­ment and tele­vi­sion bod­ies that are now get­ting into this real­ly don’t have a sense of how impor­tant it is to have an adap­tive organ­ism as your sub­strate. They are not approach­ing it from that angle.

But you know, I am pleased to say that among the things that Al Gore announced down in Los Angeles the oth­er day, had to do with open­ing up infor­ma­tion infra­struc­ture to com­pe­ti­tion. In the past as you know, most of the infor­ma­tion infra­struc­ture of the United States was designed on the basis of a reg­u­lat­ed monop­oly. And so we had for many years a stran­gle­hold on the part of AT&T, which up until very recent­ly would still require you to fill out a whole bunch of forms in order to put a suc­tion cup on your tele­phone. And I’m very grate­ful to Judge Greene, who took a lot of flak at the time, for hav­ing the insight to see that this stuff was going to devel­op much more rapid­ly and much more open­ly in the hands of a lot of dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies rather than one.

And the same thing is now start­ing to hap­pen with regard to the impend­ing train­wreck between the cable indus­try and the tel­cos and the the wire­less indus­try. These var­i­ous indus­tries have been reg­u­lat­ed in the past by com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent regimes orig­i­nat­ing in com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent places. Most of the broad­cast­ers have been reg­u­lat­ed by the FCC—and poor­ly, I might add. Most tele­phone com­pa­nies are reg­u­lat­ed by state pub­lic util­i­ties com­mis­sions. And most cable oper­a­tors are reg­u­lat­ed by munic­i­pal­i­ties.

What they’re try­ing to do is to cre­ate a sys­tem where­by all these dif­fer­ent media can come into direct com­pe­ti­tion with one anoth­er so that the path by which bits can get into your home or office is so rep­e­ti­tious and so open that com­pe­ti­tion brings down prices and cre­ates band­width. And there’s going to be, as you folks know well, an enor­mous desire for band­width that it’s going to take a lot of dif­fer­ent agen­cies to pro­duce. I mean band­width is one of those things kind of like mon­ey and sex. You know, the more you’ve got the short­er it feels. [laugh­ter]

And as soon as we start mov­ing away from text, as I hope we will since I per­son­al­ly have a text aller­gy at this point. I get a kind of ASCII glaze at the end of the week after five days of 100 to 150 email mes­sages a day. Each one of which I have to read in order to under­stand whether or not it’s impor­tant to me. And I want to see a lot of rich­er data that has a kind of semi­otic for­mat that tells me right away whether or not I want to mess with it. But it’s gonna take a lot of band­width to do that.

In any case, there are sev­er­al bills already in Congress which the EFF has been a pret­ty involved in help­ing cre­ate. There’s the Markey bill, which is HR3636, the National Communications Competition and Information Infrastructure Act of 1994, which would make it pos­si­ble for cable com­pa­nies to pro­vide tel­co ser­vices and vice ver­sa. And also make it pos­si­ble for the nation­al long-distance car­ri­ers to com­pete with the RBOCs in InterLATA telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions.

There’s anoth­er fair­ly sim­i­lar bill in the Senate, the Telecommunications Infrastructure Act, which is being pro­mot­ed by Inoue and Danforth.

And as Vice President Gore announced on Tuesday, the admin­is­tra­tion is cur­rent­ly draft­ing an amend­ment to the Communications Act which would include a whole new sec­tion of code called Title 7. And Title 7 essen­tial­ly does some­thing pret­ty enlight­ened. It’s a pro­mo­tion of a lot of the prin­ci­ples that EFF has been talk­ing about in open plat­form. And it essen­tial­ly would make it pos­si­ble for telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions providers to enter into a fair­ly non-regulated regime if they were will­ing to assure com­plete open­ness of what­ev­er chan­nel they were cre­at­ing to what­ev­er ser­vice or serv­er might wish to attach itself to it. And there is a lot of empha­sis being placed on mak­ing cer­tain that the data super­high­way is not 500 lanes one direc­tion and a foot­path the oth­er.

I can’t tell you how impor­tant it is that these design prin­ci­ples are full duplex. This does not res­onate with their cul­ture. They don’t know very much about get­ting that bit back from the con­sumer. They real­ly don’t. And they are under­stand­ably a lit­tle afraid of what will hap­pen when the couch pota­toes actu­al­ly start to speak up about what has been smoth­er­ing them, from their glass tubes all these years. It may turn out that they don’t real­ly like this stuff very much, and that they are not going to be pleased by 500 ver­sions of the Hair Channel For Men [laugh­ter] or the abil­i­ty to watch My Mother the Car at any hour of the day or night.

In spite of these fair­ly enlight­ened activ­i­ties, I think that you will see that Congress is even more inclined than ever to act in loco par­en­tis. And there are pend­ing bills which would impose the neces­si­ty of hav­ing some kind of tech­no­log­i­cal switch on your set-top box that sensed violence…and would just cir­cum­vent its entry into your home. This is obvi­ous­ly pret­ty bone­head­ed but these are the kinds of things that we have to deal with. We have to make Congress and the var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ca­tions providers rec­og­nize that the best way to assure fam­i­ly val­ues for what­ev­er fam­i­ly might be hav­ing those val­ues is to tag infor­ma­tion in ways so that they can make their own choic­es. And there are ways to do that that’re not par­tic­u­lar­ly demand­ing from a tech­ni­cal lev­el. But we do not need a soci­ety which pro­tects us from our own words. [applause]

You know one of the great things about talk­ing to you guys is I don’t real­ly feel like I have to go through a very detailed his­to­ry of EFF or what we’re doing. But I know that many of you who had a nat­ur­al affin­i­ty for the work that we did in defend­ing free­dom of speech in the very begin­ning were baf­fled when we sud­den­ly became some­thing that looked like a tel­co trade orga­ni­za­tion and start­ed push­ing ISDN and deal­ing with telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions reg­u­la­tion. And as I say, I think that we did that for good and suf­fi­cient rea­sons, even if they did­n’t com­mu­ni­cate very well to the oth­er side. And I want to run down some of the fun­da­men­tal aspects of open plat­form.

We are try­ing to pro­mote the idea that there needs to be com­mon car­riage, much as there has been through­out the his­to­ry of the tele­phone sys­tem, where the phone com­pa­ny cer­tain­ly did­n’t try to reg­u­late con­tent over its lines. The prob­lem here is that com­mon car­riage under the tele­phone mod­el was pro­tect­ed by a reg­u­la­to­ry regime which essen­tial­ly gave a monopoly…the right to go on being a monop­oly and a lot of incen­tive to go on being a monop­oly, if they would keep those lines open. And now it’s a whole new ball­game. Trying to come up with a mod­el for com­mon car­riage which does not involve a reg­u­la­to­ry over­bur­den or monop­o­lis­tic prac­tice is going to be a very sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge and we don’t have all the answers by any means. [record­ing cuts out]


…is a hard-wired ver­sion of the radio spec­trum, in which they are broad­cast­ing through­out these wires but they are not receiv­ing any­thing from the oth­er end. We have to make cer­tain that the Vail notion of uni­ver­sal ser­vice con­tin­ues to pre­vail even in cul­tures that may not find that so amenable. We have to work on inter­con­nec­tion and inter­op­er­abil­i­ty. I mean, when the fel­la from Viacom told me that TCP/IP had too much over­head, as a non Unix wee­nie, I did­n’t have a good response to him except I said that it sound­ed to me faint­ly like a reli­gious rather than tech­no­log­i­cal state­ment. Which I think it is. But the peo­ple who know that and have sound evi­dence to prove it need to be speak­ing to the peo­ple who think that that is a canon of their faith.

You also need to be think­ing about set-top box and video archi­tec­ture pro­to­cols that will make it very easy for the tel­cos and the infor­ma­tion ser­vices to pro­vide video in a fair­ly cheap bandwidth-wise and order­ly fash­ion. And I think there prob­a­bly is some truth that it’s hard to do under the cur­rent sys­tem. I saw what hap­pened to the Internet as soon as Mosaic got out there. And I’m some­what con­cerned that if a lot more of this goes on it’s going to be very dif­fi­cult to get traf­fic across the Internet. There are some seri­ous tech­ni­cal chal­lenges.

There’s a new ini­tia­tive which EFF is just start­ing to open up that you maybe inter­est­ed in, try­ing to work with the com­pa­nies them­selves, and these include some of the new Internet-based com­pa­nies, to con­vince them that there is a busi­ness advan­tage to allow­ing those peo­ple who con­nect to their sys­tem to use those con­nec­tions for what­ev­er pur­pose. And I don’t want to pick on Rick Adams, who I assume is here, but I think it’s unfor­tu­nate that AlterNet and PSI, and oth­er com­mer­cial Internet providers have for­bade those peo­ple who con­nect through them to use their facil­i­ties for such com­mer­cial ser­vices as bul­letin boards. And this is a debate that’s going to have to be car­ried on among you folks who are on the Internet and use those providers. And it may well be that you have to start look­ing to oth­er providers that are will­ing to open up their lines to real com­mu­ni­ca­tion and not impose unnec­es­sar­i­ly restric­tive bar­ri­ers to com­pe­ti­tion. [applause]

There are anoth­er set of issues that I think are going to be par­tic­u­lar­ly trou­bling, and dif­fi­cult to solve. And the gov­ern­ment is real­ly not even on the chart with this yet. I…more Thomas Pynchon. I had a real­ly weird expe­ri­ence the oth­er day. I man­aged to schmooze myself onto Air Force Two and ride back up here with Al Gore. A…surreal sense of unre­al­i­ty per­vad­ed that expe­ri­ence for me. But Al Gore’s a good guy and a smart guy, but he has been very focused on those issues around reg­u­la­tion and com­pe­ti­tion and has not thought about some oth­er issues very hard, and one of these is cryp­tog­ra­phy.

When I start­ed to to talk to him about cryp­tog­ra­phy he said, Well, you know, we have nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests at stake.” And I think that we need to think long and hard about whether or not our nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests are actu­al­ly addressed by try­ing to impose export embar­goes on cryp­to­graph­ic code. This strikes me as being like try­ing to impose export embar­goes on wind, first and fore­most. I mean, you can get MacPGP or PGP from FTP sites all over the world in sec­onds, so I’m not quite sure what they’re accom­plish­ing, except that they are accom­plish­ing a chill­ing effect on the abil­i­ty of American cor­po­ra­tions to incor­po­rate robust cryp­tog­ra­phy into soft­ware and hard­ware which they might design. Because obvi­ous­ly it does­n’t make a lot of sense to build a sys­tem that puts in cryp­to­graph­ic stan­dards that the NSA is not going to allow you to ship over­seas. You don’t want to have to build one sys­tem for the United States, and anoth­er sys­tem for over­seas sales, espe­cial­ly in a busi­ness that exports as much of its prod­uct as we do in the hard­ware and soft­ware indus­tries.

So we have to get the gov­ern­ment to rec­og­nize the futil­i­ty of cryp­to embar­go. It would be nice if they could rec­og­nize that the Cold War is over. But that may take some time. And even when they do rec­og­nize that we still have to deal with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: kid­die pornog­ra­phers; drug lords; ter­ror­ists; and unnamed for­eign ene­mies. And these mon­sters are rat­tled out every time I sug­gest that maybe it would be a good idea to free up cryp­tog­ra­phy. I think they are all fair­ly illu­so­ry beasts at this moment. Assuming that we have to shut down pri­va­cy in America because of ter­ror­ists does­n’t make a lot of sense to me when we only lost six of our cit­i­zens to ter­ror­ism last year. This is not quite the threat that the gov­ern­ment would por­tray it to be.

And real­ly what we’ve got going on I think is the NSA act­ing as a stalk­ing horse for the FBI and oth­er domes­tic law enforce­ment inter­ests, who are scared to death they’re going to lose their abil­i­ty to wire­tap as ana­log com­mu­ni­ca­tions becomes some kind of dig­i­tal fruit sal­ad. And they don’t see—and there may be a for­tu­nate qual­i­ty to this—they don’t see yet the tech­no­log­i­cal oppor­tu­ni­ties that dig­i­ti­za­tion will present them. And I think we need to see that and deal with it accord­ing­ly. We may be hurtling toward a future in which every sin­gle thing we do will be vis­i­ble to the gov­ern­ment. And as it is right now, any time you make a finan­cial trans­ac­tion you smear your fin­ger­prints all over cyber­space. This does not need to be the case. But it’s going to take a lot of chang­ing con­scious­ness to have it be oth­er­wise. And I was talk­ing to Gore the oth­er day, he was boast­ing about how gov­ern­ment ser­vices were going to be a lot more effi­cient as a result of a cen­tral­ized card that peo­ple could use to get any mon­ey that was owed them by the gov­ern­ment in dis­abil­i­ty pay­ments, social secu­ri­ty pay­ments, or what­ev­er. They could sim­ply go to a kiosk and insert their card and get their pay­ments. And I asked him if there weren’t some pri­va­cy con­sid­er­a­tions that went along with this and I drew a com­plete blank. So we have a seri­ous prob­lem.

There are also seri­ous prob­lems that have to be reck­oned with in giv­ing cryp­tog­ra­phy to every­body. I mean I’m not cer­tain that I’m com­plete­ly san­guine with the idea that the advent of dig­i­tal cash may cre­ate an econ­o­my in which tax­es become vol­un­tary. You know, at first blush that seems immense­ly appeal­ing to me. [laugh­ter] And I’m sure it does to you, too. But the prob­lem with sim­ply buy­ing the gov­ern­ment that you think you need is that the peo­ple who can afford gov­ern­ment get it and the peo­ple who can’t don’t get it, and you see what’s hap­pen­ing already in the deliv­ery of a lot of vital ser­vices.

Education has become pri­va­tized at the top. Mail has become pri­va­tized at the top. I mean I don’t know any­one with an income over 50,000 that use the Postal Service when they want to send a pack­age. They use Federal Express or UPS.

Even the police ser­vices. If you go down to Los Angeles, which I guess you won’t be able to do for a few days, you will find that in the wealth­i­er parts of Los Angeles, the local estab­lished government-supported police force is not a major ele­ment. The real police come from WESTEC. It’s kind of like out of Snow Crash. I don’t know how many of you have read that but I mean…we’re talk­ing about a future in which Don’s Police Company will be more impor­tant than the local police. And in fact be the local police.

But I also think that we have to detach finan­cial trans­ac­tion from iden­ti­ty or we are going to be in a seri­ous mess. I think that the cur­rent gov­ern­ment we’ve got, for all of its inep­ti­tude, is rel­a­tive­ly benign. But as Lord Acton said, Absolute pow­er cor­rupts absolute­ly,” and when the gov­ern­ment can see every sin­gle thing we’re up to, I think that con­veys to them a lev­el of pow­er that I’m not going to be com­fort­able with their hav­ing. And I don’t think you should be.

There is also a whole set of extreme­ly knot­ty ques­tions about intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty. And again, I’m pleased that I don’t have to explain to this audi­ence that the dig­i­ti­za­tion of every­thing presents us with cer­tain intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty chal­lenges. You know a lot about this. Believe me, the peo­ple in tra­di­tion­al media do not. And we are enter­ing a sit­u­a­tion where the pri­ma­ry arti­cle of com­merce looks a hell of a lot like speech. And giv­en the ambi­gu­i­ty of prop­er­ty law in this area, I think it’s almost impos­si­ble for us to say that free speech is assured when pro­pri­etary inter­ests will try to con­trol its trans­port, in their own eco­nom­ic regard. There is going to be a lot of that, there already is a lot of that. There are oth­er aspects of this that are more incon­ve­nient than threat­en­ing but I don’t see how we’re going to avoid a com­plete col­lapse of tech­no­log­i­cal progress if we con­tin­ue do things like put patents on things like cur­sors. [applause]

But, I’m sure that many of you work for com­pa­nies that now feel oblig­at­ed to patent every thought that hap­pens to gel up in your heads. And I think you have to think about how you can serve Caesar, and at the same time serve the col­lec­tive good of human­i­ty. Because I am con­vinced that a lot of those thoughts real­ly are the col­lec­tive prop­er­ty of human­i­ty. Somebody once said that art is what hap­pens when God speaks through a human being. And I think there is some­thing bold and arro­gant about think­ing that you own what­ev­er hap­pens in your head. I think it’s there for every­one. That’s my own per­son­al belief and I’m sure I can get a good argu­ment out of some of you on that point.

But when I dis­cussed the intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty dilem­ma with Gore on the plane the oth­er day he said, Well, you’re a song­writer and you must know that there is already a sys­tem oper­at­ing that deals in intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty that does­n’t have some phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion, and that is BMI and ASCAP.”

And I said, Well I’m a mem­ber of ASCAP. And if you think that’s the solu­tion, I invite you to write some songs.” [laugh­ter] Because ASCAP and BMI have a sys­tem for extract­ing roy­al­ty pay­ments from radio and tele­vi­sion sta­tions and dis­trib­ut­ing to their mem­bers which is so dis­or­ga­nized and dis­or­ga­ni­z­able that I look at ASCAP pay­ments as being man­na. I mean, when I get a check from ASCAP I think, Well that’s nice. I won­der if it reflects any­thing real about radio play and tele­vi­sion broad­casts.” I sus­pect not, because what they real­ly do is they’ve got peo­ple walk­ing around streets with randomly-selected tapes of radio broad­casts, lis­ten­ing to them on their Walkmans, and writ­ing down every song they hear and com­ing up with some kind of very crude sta­tis­ti­cal reck­on­ing of what that means in terms of actu­al air­play. And this is a slop­py sys­tem.

But I think there are going to be oth­er sys­tems of intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty pro­tec­tion which evolve, prob­a­bly based on some­thing more like a per­for­mance mod­el or a ser­vice mod­el, than instan­ti­a­tion in some phys­i­cal wid­get, whether it’s a book, or a tape, or what­ev­er. Those things are all going to go away, and we have to fig­ure out how to sell the wine with­out any bot­tles. And I think that we prob­a­bly will. I can’t imag­ine that we’re going into the infor­ma­tion age with­out any way of get­ting paid for the work that we do with our minds. But we’re just going to have to change our sense of what that work is from own­er­ship, to per­for­mance and ser­vice. We’re going to have to look at our­selves in a con­tin­u­ous rela­tion­ship with the peo­ple who use our work rather than say­ing, Alright, well I’ve put my work in this box, and I’m going to give you this box and the next time it’s going to be a whole new trans­ac­tion.”

But, these are going to involve some fair­ly pro­found eco­nom­ic and social changes. About the only thing I’m will­ing to say about them from here is that any­thing I say about them at this point is liable to look ridicu­lous in ten years. Everything is going to change very much. I real­ly feel that what we are essen­tial­ly doing here is rough­ly like what the French the­olo­gian and philoso­pher Teilhard de Chardin was talk­ing about when he start­ed to write in the 30s about the Omega Point, or that point at which human beings became so good at com­mu­ni­cat­ing with one anoth­er that they cre­at­ed what amount­ed to the col­lec­tive organ­ism of mind. We are going to become a crea­ture. In a sense maybe we already are. And that will be a very dif­fer­ent kind of crea­ture than has ever been seen in the uni­verse before. It will be enor­mous­ly pow­er­ful. And you folks are help­ing it be born. I want to take some ques­tions and answers, but thank you very much.


John Perry Barlow: Could I have some light in here? I like it a lot bet­ter when I’m talk­ing to peo­ple I can see. Yes, go ahead.

Audience 1: Okay. In the past, even though the Internet has had fund­ing from the gov­ern­ment, I think there’s been more sweat equi­ty from some of us, and more local mon­ey put into the Internet com­pared to the gov­ern­men­t’s con­tri­bu­tion. With the advent of the super­high­way, this ratio may change and there­fore the gov­ern­men­t’s con­trol of the Internet may also increase. Do you have any com­ments on that?

Barlow: Well, you know, fortunately…you’d nev­er guess it from hear­ing their pub­lic state­ments but the gov­ern­ment has no inten­tion of build­ing the nation­al data super­high­way. They know that that’s not some­thing that they can afford or some­thing that they should be doing. What they are doing instead is try­ing to cre­ate the right eco­nom­ic envi­ron­ment in which that thing can be built by pri­vate indus­try. And that’s real­ly the appro­pri­ate approach, as long as you can put in place cer­tain stan­dards for behav­ior that will help pri­vate indus­try act in a democ­ra­tiz­ing rather than plu­to-crati­ciz­ing kind of way.

The gov­ern­ment is also doing the right thing in the sense that they are try­ing to stim­u­late inter­net use by pro­vid­ing grants to schools and oth­er oth­er pub­lic inter­est bod­ies for Internet con­nec­tion. And they’re also inter­est­ed in cre­at­ing appli­ca­tions which will become strong­ly sup­port­ive of pub­lic use of the Internet.

So, I think that when­ev­er gov­ern­ment gets involved in any­thing you’ve got to be vig­i­lant. But I’m very pleased with the over­all approach they’re tak­ing to build­ing this thing. They’re not set­ting out to try to pour con­crete. Or in this case lay fiber. They know enough to know that there’s an awful lot of dark fiber already out there and what they need to stim­u­late are the on-ramps and the coun­try roads. Because the main routes have already been built.

Audience 2: In yes­ter­day’s Chronicle, Michael Schrage is a colum­nist, he wrote that all the talk about infor­ma­tion haves and have-nots is cre­at­ing a wel­fare eth­ic in cyber­space, and goes on to say that the real prob­lems are not pover­ty or wealth in a mon­e­tary sense but how illit­er­ate or lit­er­ate peo­ple are. I’d like to know your thoughts about that.

Barlow: Well, I don’t think Michael Schrage gets it. He also in the same col­umn talks about what this is all for is for tele­vi­sion, essen­tial­ly. He does­n’t seem to under­stand that peo­ple want to inter­act with each oth­er over this. And he also does­n’t under­stand some­thing an Andrew Carnegie under­stood very well. I’ve got a great quote in here which I could read you if my bat­tery had­n’t gone flat on me. [laugh­ter; applause] I don’t know about these things. …from Andrew Carnegie, who said that he gave his mon­ey to libraries because he felt that libraries were one of the great tools for achiev­ing social equi­ty and jus­tice. They did not pau­per­ize peo­ple. They did­n’t make them depen­dent. They give them the tools that were nec­es­sary for them to pull them­selves up by their own boot­straps. And real­ly what we’re talk­ing about is the con­struc­tion of a great meta library. And I can’t believe that giv­ing peo­ple access to a sys­tem on which all the world’s infor­ma­tion is going to reside will have a tru­ly dele­te­ri­ous effect on the abil­i­ty of peo­ple to get infor­ma­tion.

There are prob­lems, and they’re pri­mar­i­ly cul­tur­al rather than eco­nom­ic prob­lems. You folks have cre­at­ed an inter­face, if we can call it that [laugh­ter], which is high­ly exclu­sive. It’s con­ge­nial to peo­ple like you. And there aren’t a lot of peo­ple like you, as you may have noticed. [laugh­ter] It is not par­tic­u­lar­ly con­ge­nial to peo­ple like my moth­er, or a 13 year-old from Harlem. Or, I might, add most women. Just take a look at the num­bers in this room. There are women here but you are a spe­cial lot. There aren’t enough of you here. [applause] And I think that we can’t real­ly set­tle cyber­space until we can make it safe for the women and chil­dren, and it isn’t. [laugh­ter; applause]

And I don’t blame you guys this. I mean, Brenda Laurel and I were at a con­fer­ence a few years ago talk­ing about why there aren’t more women in dig­i­tal media, and whether it was a process of active exclu­sion or what. And a young, pale man got up in the back of the room and he said, Well, you have to under­stand that I got in the com­put­er sci­ence because I was scared of girls. [laugh­ter] And there weren’t any there.”

So you know, I think that there are a lot of prob­lems that have to be addressed with regard to access, but they’re most­ly prob­lems with mak­ing the tools easy for peo­ple to use. Because I don’t think that the tech­nol­o­gy itself is going to be very expen­sive for very long. I mean I’ve seen 286’s as doorstops and paper­weights. And they’re still per­fect­ly good for access­ing the Internet. We need to get that machin­ery out into the com­mu­ni­ty that can’t afford it. And you need to make cer­tain that the infor­ma­tion providers and infra­struc­ture providers feel some sense of social respon­si­bil­i­ty about putting access points at low cost into every home in America. But Schrage’s argu­ment that this is all for the rich I think is a lit­tle mis­lead­ing.

I am…you know, I am a bit con­cerned about what I’m afraid is going to break down in the library mod­el. I mean, in the library mod­el you come to the library and get books free. The con­tents of those books did­n’t cost you any­thing, it had already been paid for when the library bought the book. And now I’m afraid we’re going to a sys­tem where an awful lot of infor­ma­tion is going to cost every­one who uses it. And I don’t know the answer to that ques­tion. I hope that the col­lec­tive men­tal horse­pow­er of the peo­ple in this room can turn them­selves to that because it’s going to be a tough ques­tion.

Audience 3: I had a some­what more prac­ti­cal ques­tion about open­ness. You men­tioned a desire to make sure there are mul­ti­ple wires to the house. But one of the prob­lems I’m see­ing is that the local munic­i­pal­i­ties own the con­duits. And this is actu­al­ly becom­ing a tremen­dous dif­fi­cul­ty for exam­ple in get­ting rights to get conduit—look at the [MCLI?] deal that made sure they could install stuff in New York City.

Similarly, I mean you know, if I can get to a rail­road line, for exam­ple, almost any­where in the country—railroad lines being an inter­est­ing sit­u­a­tion because you can put fiber along them very cheap­ly. I mean for exam­ple to wire the entire penin­su­la could cost a few thou­sand bucks to go down the Caltrain line here. But get­ting from one house to Caltrain means you have to go through the local munic­i­pal­i­ty to get per­mis­sion to put some­thing in the con­duit, which means huge amounts of mon­ey and dif­fi­cul­ty of access. Is there any­thing one can do to try to encour­age com­pe­ti­tion in the con­duit sort of space?

Barlow: Well this is essen­tial­ly what EFF is try­ing to get done in Congress, and in work­ing with the var­i­ous con­gress­men and with the admin­is­tra­tion. You know, that’s been Priority A, is mak­ing cer­tain that there are a lot of com­peti­tors who are oper­at­ing on a lev­el play­ing field in get­ting those bits to you. And I think that the bills that’re present­ly pend­ing are head­ed the right direc­tion. I strong­ly recommend…you know, tedious as it may be, that you make your­self famil­iar with that leg­is­la­tion.

And I would also rec­om­mend you know, EFF as being a good way to do that. If there are a lot of you who have not joined EFF I’m going to be per­fect­ly self-serving now in say­ing that I think you real­ly ought to. And if you don’t feel like join­ing us, at least try to check in on our news groups, which are…um… I did­n’t get enough sleep last night. comp​.org​.eff​.talk and eff-news. But the best way to get infor­ma­tion from us is to write eff@​eff.​org and ask to be put on our mail­ing list. And also if you’re inter­est­ed in get­ting paper for those friends of yours that may not be digitally-connected, you can request that paper mate­ri­als be sent to you. We will try to keep you extreme­ly up-to-date on what’s going on in Washington, where we have the dis­mal chore of keep­ing track of it.

We’ll do that for you so you don’t have to, but you need to be some­what aware. You need to know that there are going to be moments where it becomes crit­i­cal to write your con­gress­man. And you need to try to make your friends aware of what’s going on here. Because peo­ple are in a seri­ous state of con­fu­sion. Most folks are dif­fer­ent­ly clued from your­self, and you need to help them out a lit­tle bit.

Audience 4: You seem to be advo­cat­ing two things that at least at first blush seem like they might be at least some­what mutu­al­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry.

Barlow: I hope so.

Audience 5: One is let­ting com­pe­ti­tion in a lev­el play­ing field get things going. The oth­er is uni­ver­sal access as a type of of…that the tele­phone com­pa­nies have sub­si­dized local access to get as their quid pro quo for reg­u­lat­ed monop­oly. This seems to be a stick­ing point in the var­i­ous bills in Congress. What is the best posi­tion?

Barlow: Well this is a tough prob­lem. I tend to think, though, that if I’m not in the pres­ence of irony and para­dox I must not be in the pres­ence of the truth. And you know, the way in which the Vail mod­el worked was by the impo­si­tion of the tele­phone com­pa­ny as a reg­u­lat­ed monop­oly which was in a posi­tion to charge some of its cus­tomers a lot more in order to sub­si­dize oth­er of its cus­tomers who could­n’t afford those rates. And we don’t want to go to that regime, and there’s no enthu­si­asm any­where in the indus­try for doing that. Too many years of deal­ing with the FCC has hard­ened every­body against reg­u­la­tion.

But I think that the answer to that is that there is some­thing about real com­pe­ti­tion, and not the kind of bogus com­pe­ti­tion you get between two or three agen­cies, that is going to have an enor­mous­ly dis­trib­u­tive effect, nat­u­ral­ly. If it’s real com­pe­ti­tion, it’s in their best inter­est to get those con­nec­tions to every­body. Because they’re also going to be in the busi­ness of sell­ing the stuff that comes over that wire, and if they can’t get that wire to you they can’t sell that stuff to you. I’ve had that expe­ri­ence from a num­ber of peo­ple in places like Bell Atlantic and TCI and I tend to believe them. I think they see it as being in their self-interest to get every­thing con­nect­ed.

But you know, I don’t feel some sense of great secu­ri­ty in that, I feel like we have to be con­tin­u­ous­ly vig­i­lant. And you know, it’s one thing to say that we want open com­pe­ti­tion, it’s anoth­er thing to come up with an appro­pri­ate mech­a­nism for assur­ing it and God is in the details. And there’s going to be a lot of hard work in work­ing out those details.

By the way I have a ques­tion from the net here, which is Will a record­ing of this speech be avail­able after­wards?” and I guess the answer is yes though I don’t know…

Jeff Mogul: The answer to that is that Carl Malamud who runs Internet Talk Radio will be giv­en the tape of this and he’ll make it avail­able via his usu­al tech­niques.

Barlow: Right.

Audience 5: Yes, I had a ques­tion. Amongst this audi­ence I—and I mean to insult no one—you usu­al­ly use the word pol­i­tics” to describe any social phe­nom­e­non you don’t under­stand. [Barlow laughs] And in my expe­ri­ence, I come from the actu­al precinct in which Tip O’Neill lived, and his famous dic­tum about all pol­i­tics being local I think prob­a­bly holds here. The only thing I guess I would I would ask you is if you could com­ment on the degree to which pol­i­tics is about voice. And in my expe­ri­ence on the local lev­el, it has always been that those who are frankly allied on the side of good­ness are those who are doing it out of love and in their spare time. And the oppo­site num­ber is paid to do it and arrive in vast mul­ti­tudes in pro­por­tion to the amount of mon­ey to be made. The descrip­tions you were giv­ing ear­li­er sound like an ever-greater Goliath for us sundry Davids in the audi­ence. I won­dered how you might address the inequity.

Barlow: Well at least that ought to get you out of bed in the morn­ing. Or at night­fall when­ev­er you get up. [laugh­ter; applause] But you know, I think we need to look at the Internet itself, which is one of the great­est vol­un­teer projects of all time. And is dou­bling in size annu­al­ly in spite of the fact that there does­n’t seem to be any mon­ey in it any­where that any­body can— [laugh­ter] People from the phys­i­cal world keep ask­ing me about how the Internet gets paid for and I…you know… I don’t know. [laugh­ter]

Audience 5: Time Warner does.

Barlow: Uh…no Time Warner def­i­nite­ly does­n’t, I assure you. They real­ly don’t. They’re try­ing hard to fig­ure that out.

But you know, you’re absolute­ly right. All sen­si­ble pol­i­tics are local, for sure. And that’s one of the great genius­es of dis­trib­uted com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems. Because the sort of macro deci­sions, the meta deci­sions that get made about the Internet emerge from lit­tle col­lec­tive deci­sions that are made all over its out­er bound­aries. I think there’s some­thing enor­mous­ly democ­ra­tiz­ing about this. And I think that it is a very, very pow­er­ful sys­tem that the old struc­tur­al meth­ods are going to have a dif­fi­cult time com­pet­ing with. In spite of the fact that they have a lot of mon­ey behind them, they don’t have the same kind of pas­sion. They don’t have the same sense of per­son­al invest­ment and involve­ment in what they’re doing that peo­ple who are build­ing the Internet do. And I…I think, you know there are times when I feel like this thing is just going to spread of its own accord, at the present rate which is some­times 20% growth per month, until some­time before the turn of the mil­len­ni­um every man, woman, and child on the plan­et has an email address. But you know, I think we can also expect to see that curve go asymp­tot­ic at some point and… You know, I’m not com­plete­ly san­guine about about our chances but I’m very opti­mistic. We just have to stay on it.

Audience 6: My ques­tion is, when I think about the ques­tion of main­tain­ing qual­i­ty on the net, you know I’m not sure that all thought [flame?] is any bet­ter than Geraldo. And unfor­tu­nate­ly—

Barlow: At least you don’t have to see them. [laugh­ter]

Audience 6: Unfortunately, qual­i­ty in things like this con­fer­ence and on the net has relied tra­di­tion­al­ly on unpaid pro­gram com­mit­tee mem­bers and mod­er­a­tors. And as every­one of the busi­ness­es involved in this starts say­ing, We don’t do any­thing unless we see the return,” I’m wor­ried about the sus­tain­ing vol­un­teer effort to cre­ate the basic infor­ma­tion, ie., writ­ing the first copy when you can’t usu­al­ly charge peo­ple who’re mak­ing more copies, and sort­ing the out good infor­ma­tion from the bad. And I hope that the gov­ern­ment will try to arrange the pol­i­tics so that there is a reward in that part of the busi­ness in what would tra­di­tion­al­ly be the librar­i­an ref­er­ee­ing busi­ness once the print­ing busi­ness is no longer throw­ing up the sur­plus to sup­port it.

Barlow: Well, I don’t think that the gov­ern­ment needs to do very much along those lines. Because I think that one of the great­est prob­lems that we face cit­ing data shock. I mean, cer­tain­ly our polit­i­cal sys­tem is already reel­ing under the effects of too much infor­ma­tion. The aver­age con­gress­man has got an atten­tion span of about five sec­onds. And I per­son­al­ly don’t spend a lot of time read­ing Usenet any­more because I just don’t have the time or the ener­gy to sort out per­son­al­ly the signal-to-noise ratio. Which is lousy.

And fur­ther­more I’m hav­ing to do it you know, with…the human I/O is worse than a cheat modem. For text. I mean it’s great for expe­ri­ence. I mean we’re get­ting giga­bits per sec­ond of infor­ma­tion about our envi­ron­ment. But with text it’s not very high. So I think that there are a cou­ple of solu­tions to the prob­lem, one of which is gonna be rich­er media. But also I think that there’s going to be a nat­ur­al devel­op­ment of a lot of peo­ple who make their liv­ing by try­ing to sort out rel­e­vance for a spe­cif­ic audi­ence that con­tracts with them. You know, at this point I would be will­ing to pay a cer­tain amount to quite a num­ber of peo­ple to iden­ti­fy what I real­ly want to know about and flag the stuff that’s out there on the Internet, to bring it to my atten­tion so I don’t have to read the whole damn thing to get the stuff that is impor­tant. [applause]

And I think that’s already start­ing to hap­pen, and will will hap­pen a lot. I mean I real­ly see that there are two great eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties here. One is for vir­tu­al edit­ing and the oth­er one is for vir­tu­al com­mu­ni­ty and ways in which you can bring peo­ple togeth­er and pro­vide them a rich medi­um in which to inter­act with one anoth­er. I think they’re going to be very suc­cess­ful busi­ness mod­els and they’re going to be small sort of machete and loincloth-style busi­ness­es. They’re not the sort of thing that Bell Atlantic is ever going to know very much about run­ning.

Audience 7: What about sys­tems like the French Minitel? Do you think these are mod­els that we should look at for the infor­ma­tion super­high­way?

Barlow: Well, first of all I can’t imag­ine that Jesse Helms would be very appre­cia­tive of most of the con­tent on Minitel. But you know, if any­thing I’ve had deal­ings with the French about try­ing to get the Minitel sys­tem con­nect­ed to the net. And there’s an enor­mous amount of cul­tur­al immune response there. As you would imag­ine, their being French and all. [laugh­ter]

Interestingly enough you know, you run into the same prob­lem in Japan. I mean, they rec­og­nize that…you know, their cul­ture is very impor­tant to them and they rec­og­nize that there is some­thing enor­mous­ly infec­tious about this. They hate the fact that it’s in English. Gore was say­ing the oth­er day that he had been talk­ing to the pres­i­dent of Kazakhstan and this fel­low’s son had said that he want­ed to learn English because that was the lan­guage that the com­put­er spoke. This is the sort of state­ment that chills a lot of Frenchmen.

But I’m pleased to say that they’re start­ing to come around on this. I know that they have recent­ly con­tract­ed with a Silicon Valley com­pa­ny that is in the PDA busi­ness to start con­nect­ing Minitel to a larg­er net­work. They’ve got some seri­ous tech­ni­cal prob­lems. I mean, Minitel was amaz­ing­ly advanced when it was cre­at­ed. I don’t think you could say that of it now. But I think there’s a lot of there’s suc­tion in the online world that even­tu­al­ly is going to attract every­thing that pro­duces elec­tron­ic infor­ma­tion.

Audience 8: This is kind of on a more mun­dane plane. What kind of con­nec­tiv­i­ty do you expect to have at your ranch in Wyoming in the next decade, say?

Barlow: Well, I’m real­ly hope­ful that I’m not stuck at 19.2 for­ev­er. But I think that that again is is an area where I have plen­ty of rea­son for opti­mism. There are a num­ber of com­pa­nies that are work­ing on satel­lite tech­nol­o­gy. And I think that there’s going to be an econ­o­my of scale devel­oped there fair­ly rapid­ly for those those kinds of extreme­ly rur­al areas where run­ning in tra­di­tion­al net­works may be pro­hib­i­tive.

But you know, actu­al­ly the lit­tle com­pa­nies, lit­tle tele­phone providers in places like I live have been con­sis­tent­ly a lot more advanced than than the RBOCs. US West, which serves most of the area around me, is sell­ing off a lot of its small ten­drils rather than put in dig­i­tal switch­ing, where­as the pri­vate com­pa­nies in those small areas have had dig­i­tal switch­ing for a long time, includ­ing one in my lit­tle town. Tnd they’re present­ly run­ning a fiber optic cable forty-five miles from Big Piney to Pinedale. I think it’ll be a while before they start run­ning fiber around Pinedale, but they’re going to have ISDN there next year. [applause]

So again, it falls to a large extent to folks like you to go to your local tele­phone provider and say, I want to get ISDN ser­vice, how can I do that?” I mean that’s real­ly impor­tant. Because a lot of these folks don’t know that there’s a real desire on the part of the pub­lic, that there’s a mar­ket for this kind of prod­uct.

Have you been…?

Audience 9: I’ve been stand­ing here in the mid­dle.

Barlow: Okay, who’s been there the longest? I haven’t the slight­est idea. Okay, go ahead.

Audience 10: I have, yes. To go on with this par­tic­u­lar dis­cus­sion, I live up in the moun­tains of New Mexico way up away from every­where and I have a PageSAT satel­lite receiv­er. And that is one way, as you point­ed out. The prob­lem I’m hav­ing there is to get back to the Internet I need to feed back through an FCC-controlled spec­trum. And the FCC is not quite com­ing around as fast as you seem to think the tele­phone com­pa­ny is, although I’m just total­ly get­ting around the tele­phone com­pa­ny. I real­ly haven’t had a phone for three or four years. I just recent­ly got one because I bought a new house and it had a phone in it. But it will go away after a while.

Barlow: Well every­body knows that the FCC is a prob­lem. That’s the good news. I mean even the FTC knows that. And I think that as Title 7 gets draft­ed, we’re going to see some fun­da­men­tal changes in the way in which the FCC oper­ates. Because the FCC has been doing some­thing very dif­fer­ent in the past from what it’s about to start doing.

There’s also final­ly an aware­ness that radio spec­trum is not quite the same thing as real estate. That it has an infi­nite­ly divis­i­ble qual­i­ty. And it’s not quite nec­es­sary with present day tech­nol­o­gy to pro­tect so much of the side­band as it has been in the past. So I think we’re going to see some real changes in FCC pol­i­cy. Again, you’re going to have to help make those changes hap­pen. I mean these orga­ni­za­tions do not change because they want to. They change because they have to.

Audience 10: Well, the thing that I see that’s got me scared is that I’ve a satel­lite receiv­er for like fif­teen years. And the changes that went into effect when Time Warner turned the skies dark are just ter­ri­fy­ing. Because as soon as there was a mar­ket, as soon as there were enough satel­lite receivers out there, then Time Warner decid­ed that they would only send their satel­lite pro­gram­ming to those peo­ple who scram­bled their sig­nal so that the home satel­lite receiv­er could not receive it. And they had instant mar­ket at that point. And so that’s why I sup­port the cryp­tog­ra­phy thing. I’m against the Clipper chip. I’m all of those things just because it’s already hap­pened and you guys weren’t even aware of it.

Barlow: Well you know, I don’t want to be too enthu­si­as­tic about these peo­ple but anoth­er great mar­ket devel­oped at that point which was in pirate decod­ing chips, and those peo­ple are amaz­ing.

Audience 10: But the Time Warner peo­ple have defeat­ed that mar­ket, too. They replace the video cipher almost every year.

Barlow: Yeah.

Audience 10: They’re up to video cipher three and four tech­nol­o­gy at this point. As soon as you start to beat them or start to come even, then they replaced the hard­ware.

Barlow: And so march­es tech­nol­o­gy. I’m afraid I’m out of time, folks. If you want imme­di­ate mate­ri­als on EFF I think there’s some out here on a table. I thank you all very much. I’m hon­ored to be able to speak to you.

Mogul: Thank you John. Apparently we had about sev­en­ty peo­ple from the Internet lis­ten­ing in at 1 point or another—I don’t think all at the same time. And I’d like to thank every­body. We have a break ses­sion and then at eleven o’clock sharp we’ll be start­ing the first ses­sion of ref­er­eed papers in here and the first invit­ed talk ses­sion I guess on the oth­er side of the divider.

Further Reference

This record­ing at archive​.org

A ver­sion of this speech, minus Q&A, is pub­lished at the EFF web site, titled Stopping the Information Railroad”. It is marked as hav­ing been tran­scribed, though there are dif­fer­ences from the record­ing above.


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