Anna Barlow, at the Internet Archive’s John Perry Barlow Symposium, April 7, 2018
To have access to that truth; to protect the availability that the Internet offered in a way that was more raw and accessible to information than ever before. He knew that this was an imperative thing to fight for, and it was second nature for him to fight as hard as he could. – Anna Barlow.
Video and complete transcription available at the Internet Archive.
(A complete index of all speakers is forming here on the Aaron Swartz Day website.)
Anna Barlow: Welcome everyone. Well I just want to say this is such a wonderful event for my family and I. And on the way over here I was thinking what a great thing it is that my dad doesn’t have to be bummed about missing parties anymore because now he can kind of go to all the parties, and he gets the best seat in the House which is which is great. So he would be so tickled about this amazing collection of some of his truly favorite minds and thinkers of all time in one room talking about the ideas that he was most inspired by. Most of them happen to be good friends but that’s just kind of how he rolled; with people that intrigued him the most. This speech was thrown together in the past few days so bear with me here. But it’s an honor to share some thoughts about him here.
The fact that it’s in conjunction with honoring him and his work – which has always been one of his favorite things – is a real treat for him to say the least. And I feel very much that he’s with us today and this weekend. And it’s I’m sure he’s giddy for this beautiful gathering. So thank you all so much for being here. And to EFf and the Internet Archive archive. My dad was kind of like a roving psychedelic data collector slash cowboy spy. The majority of his life.
And I remember as a little girl him coming home to rural Wyoming from his travels. Being so fascinated by these trinkets and books and artifacts from the far reaches of the world. We got to join him on many of these adventures as well as spend some time with him in his home in New York and San Francisco. But for the most part he seemed to always be in a different country every time I spoke with him, most of my life. And I remember him explaining to me as a little girl it wasn’t so much the things in these places that made them so special to visit, but it was really the people that lit up and fueled his love for exploration. When he got sick in the past few years I realized that although this physical presence was stationary, his adventures didn’t stop they just started coming to him. For the first time in his life, my dad was in the same place multiple months at a time, which meant that the people that loved him from all over the world actually knew where to find him.
So they started to come to visit him. Some regularly from across town. Others flew from across the globe just for a day. But everyone that came. No matter how close they were or how well they knew each other came for the same reasons. Beyond just loving him, they came to feel inspired. To feel understood. They needed to have their brains just completely turned inside out and handed back to them in 15 minutes which was really good at. Or sometimes most dependently they needed to just have a good laugh, which he was sure to supply. Even in his darkest of days whether he was meaning to or not, the man could get a laugh out of an old family dog. In fact he often said “it’s humor that saves us from despair.” And up until the very last day, he was still cracking jokes that ended in uncomfortable laughter, uncontrollable laughter (sometimes uncomfortable haha). [00:59:09]
Over the course of the past few years, I found myself returning time and again to the station here in San Francisco to be with him. To help how I could. But I also came for that inspiration and that wisdom and that laughter. I met some incredible visitors of his, over the past few years. Physicists who taught alongside at Harvard. Brazilian supermodels who are still in love with him from 10 years ago at Carnival. Famous suit makers. His old pal, Joey Scalone, that made his favorite deli sandwich in New York, with extra Miracle Whip, that they had just there for him. Dancers. Writers. Politicians. Magicians. Janitors from old hospitals. Leaders of biker gangs. Healers. Priests and childhood friends. Each with a different special story of what my dad meant to them. Each with a different lens of the strong love they felt for him. I remember each distinctly, as they were unique.
One of my favorite visitors really helped me understand my fathers impact on the world of the Internet in a way that I hadn’t before. And, to this day, was one of my favorite Barlow interactions. One day, as my dad was in the hospital, and I was, for whatever reason, feeling a little short wired and tired. Two men walked in with baggy clothes and neck tattoos, and I thought “where in the world does this puzzle piece fall on the insane mosaic of my dad’s life?” My dad was sleeping and the nurse asked for us to go in the waiting room. At first I didn’t feel very talkative, but from pure curiosity, I asked how they knew my dad. [01:00:52]
“He saved our lives. One of them said completely candidly. The other nodded.
“Oh yeah? How’s that?” I asked.
They went on to explain in such a poignant beautiful way, that my dad to them was a contemporary noble knight that rode on and rode in on his white stallion, and one of the most dire moments in their lives and swept them out of harm’s way and they owed everything to him.
These guys, I came to find out where a couple of the first original “hackers” The original whistleblowers who cracked the code to access databases for the good of humanity who fought for the truth. They had been thrown into jail for accessing information that should be shared for the public’s well-being and they were looking at extensive prison terms and my dad fought day and night to get them out. He didn’t know them well at this point, but he felt it was important to stand up for what they were doing, but more importantly to stand up for the people’s right to know the truth. (Cheers and applause from Audience.) [01:01:50]
To have access to that truth; to protect the availability that the Internet offered in a way that was more raw and accessible to information than ever before. He knew that this was an imperative thing to fight for, and it was second nature for him to fight as hard as he could.
Those men those men now live in Silicon Valley with successful startups and families. I wish I remember their names; they might be here. But it was a great interaction and it resembles such a small drop in the bucket of impacts that my father has had in his pursuit for protecting free speech. The right to access it and the pioneering of the Internet as we know it. So thank you dad for all of those important things of vital importance now more than ever to my generation, as well as to every generation to come.
If there’s one thing that my dad believed in more than anything, it was that everyone and everything is connected. The fabric of our lives is a never ending network is a never ending network of connectivity, and the internet nerd network mirrors that in a way that fascinated him entirely until his very last day. He said recently in reference to the internet. “I mean think of how expansive it is. It’s just an extensive ecosystem. It’s capable of keeping God company.” Followed by one of his whimsical chuckles. We’re so thrilled to celebrate him today and all of his work in pioneering free speech and just all of the impacts that he had to keep us in line with what’s important about honoring knowledge and truth today.
So thank you so much for being here. Big things to the EFF and the Internet Archive and we look forward to the speakers. [01:03:36]
Transcription by Lisa Rein (Co-founder Aaron Swartz Day & Creative Commons, and friend of John Perry Barlow). Lisa Rein used Teme to start – and then cleaned it up by comparing it to the video, over many days :) Corrections are very much appreciated-please send them to: lisa[@]lisarein.com.