I grew up in New Delhi in the late 90s on a steady diet of 2600, phrack, BBSes and the EFF. Two of the people I’d read a lot about, and was subsequently very inspired by, were JPB and Mitch Kapor, as founders of the EFF – and I decided one day that I’d like to actually reach out and talk to Barlow (I didn’t actually have a goal in mind, now that I think about it).
Figuring that an email would never get a reply, I added him on AIM. To my utter surprise, he added me back – and after introducing myself as a high schooler who was a fan of the work he was doing, we communicated over the next year or so on a wide variety of topics that included open source, free software and the state of the internet in India at the time. For the next 10 years or so, when AIM was still active, he was one of the very few people still on my contacts list who would go “online” and “offline” with a regular cadence — one of the only reasons I ever even logged into AIM was to (rarely) say hello :).
Of course, I stopped using the service a long time ago, and lost touch with him – but his declaration of independence of cyberspace was something that I leaned on when researching about internet censorship and policies a few years ago. I never did reach back out to him, and there was no pressing need to either.
On hearing the news of his passing away, I’m reminded of how prescient and applicable his words have been to the issues and challenges that we see in the internet of today – but also how he personally upheld one beautifully phrased paragraph in particular, by virtue of his accepting a request from, and interacting with a random high schooler from half way across the world.
Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.
(Cross posted from the original hackernews comment)