Who is John Perry Barlow and Why Should You Care?

Who is John Perry Barlow and Why Should You Care?

John Perry Barlow, Thomas Jefferson and me in Washington, DC.

Full disclosure: I am a Deadhead.

When I was a teenager, the Grateful Dead offered me a path of adventure out of my small town in pre-Internet, culturally isolated Vermont. Being on the road and following the Dead for the time that I did taught me to view the world in a Janusian fashion; that something could be both good and evil at the same time, the roles of criminal and victim were not so clear cut. We were tie-dyed outlaws with big hearts who all started out with a wide-eyed idealism that almost inevitably lead to a hardened, more calloused “tourhead” persona… and once we got into a show and the music started, we were right back to being the wide-eyed innocent that got us out on tour in the first place.

Like Janus, the Grateful Dead could carry two opposing ideas or emotions at the same time. A Lennon-McCartney chemistry existed between guitarists and singers Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir. Weir had a very testosterone-laced, rock-roll energy where Garcia had a more ethereal, softer vibe. Both, in part because of the lyricists they worked with, carried their messages with highly intelligent poetry. The combination was intoxicating.

Lyricist John Perry Barlow, who worked with Bob Weir to write a large amount of the Grateful Dead’s catalog, gave the Grateful Dead swagger and injected more political, activist energy into the band than the Garcia-Hunter musician/lyricist partnership could have provided on its own.

All of the above is simply to say that I have been a fan of Barlow’s work with the Grateful Dead for a long time, but that is not why I think you should care who he is. If you use the Internet, and I think it is a safe bet for me to assume you do, you should care who he is and what he stands for. Long before the Internet became central to how we all communicate, long before we started over-sharing on Facebook and having our Google searches catalogued and tagged  with our names for eternity (oh, God), Barlow has been an advocate for your privacy and has been protecting your rights as a “netizen”. As co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, his work will impact and hopefully protect your online presence for many years to come.

This week Mashable recommended Barlow in the number one slot for must-follow Twitter feeds (@JPBarlow), and having been a follower of his feed for a while, I agree with the ranking. Here is that they said:

Grateful Dead lyricist, Harvard fellow, technology advocate — there’s not much John Perry Barlow hasn’t done.

One of the founding members of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Barlow spent 20+ years as songwriter before turning his passion to technology.

One of the first to advocate for a free and open Internet, Barlow is also an accomplished entrepreneur and serves as managing partner at Algae Systems, a biofuel research and development company. He’s also written extensively forWired and The New York Times.

What they did not mention (damnit) is that Barlow has also been on the advisory board of the organization I co-founded, Clear Path International, practically since day one. I am proud to call him a friend. As a matter of fact, I still owe him 40 bucks in cab fare.

I join Mashable in recommending Barlow’s feed if you care about the future of the Internet and your place in it.  I also recommend you listen to some of his work with the Grateful Dead, below!

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