Photo Brad Elterman
Photo Paige Silveria
Photo Alex Brunet
READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH JOHN BARLOW ON DIGITAL DISSIDENCE BY STEPHAN CRASNEANSCKI IN PURPLE FASHION #23 OUT NOW
STEPHAN CRASNEANSCKI — John, good to see again. So you’re having a little party tonight.
JOHN BARLOW — Yeah, I’m having a party at The Spotted Pig for the release of the 180 gram virgin vinyl LP recording of myself reading A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.
STEPHAN CRASNEANSCKI — One hundred thousand years ago, human beings inhabited the African desert; 10,000 years ago we began making cities; and now we are living in cyberspace. The point is, what was once considered mere science-fiction is now, quicker than most people realize, becoming a reality. It all started with the Internet, which you consider to be the most significant technological event in the history of humanity, since the capture of fire.
JOHN BARLOW — Well, look, the Internet is a lot of things, and they’re all profoundly powerful. I trace the beginning of the Internet back to that day in 1837 when Samuel F.B. Morse tapped out “What hath God wrought” on a telegraph key in Washington, D.C., and somebody in Baltimore was able to read it just at that moment. We became capable of communicating instantaneously at a distance and, in theory, experiencing simultaneously and instantaneously at a distance. That was unprecedented in human history, and has fundamentally changed what it is to be human. Of course, the changes were relatively modest at first. I think they were thought of at the time as being earth-shattering, profound, but as we now know, they hadn’t seen anything yet. And so the Internet has developed through the telephone networks, the radio broadcast, television broadcast media, all these different forms of primarily one-to-many communication systems or one-to-one communication systems, and it was only, I would say, in the mid-’70s — the Internet was born in September of 1969 — that people started to use it as a place (and I use the word “place” advisedly) where people could gather. And I think that was another significant inflection point.
STEPHAN CRASNEANSCKI — And that’s when you started to become involved with it?
JOHN BARLOW — Yes, that was the point when I decided to give it a name and borrowed one from Bill Gibson, a good friend of mine who’d had something kind of like cyberspace in one of his science-fiction books, Neuromancer. It was actually quite different, if you read the book closely, but it was close enough. What I wanted to get across was that there was a space that had formed already, and that it had a name and was called cyberspace. Moreover, the people “in” cyberspace, so to speak, had rights and had certain freedoms of expression that needed to be preserved. But I also knew — and I didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on this — that it was inherent to the architecture of the Internet that it was a superb surveillance tool. That it had the capability at that time of monitoring every single person on it, fairly trivially. And I wrote for communications at the ACM [Association for Computing Machinery], back in ’87, I think, that we were on a very narrow precipice between a future that would liberate the voice of everyone in humanity and a future where everybody could be watched at all times.
The nomads told me, if you ever going to visit the desert, you will never return as the same person. Somehow, they are absolutely right. There is this indescribable magic about this place. It‘s full of blessings and limitlessness, the sky is like an ocean and the crystal silence is like a great gospel.
After driving eight hours from Marrakesh to get here, I felt dizzy. Nevertheless, it only took me a few more minutes and a few more steps through the dark dunes, to feel the magic of that place.
There she was... the beautiful Sahara, straight in front of me. The immensity of this wide and open space was completely overwhelming.
My escorts were one local Moroccan, two nomads and three dromedaries which carried all the heavy loads. The dromedaries have an unrivaled capacity to endure long periods without water, up to five days, I was told, which makes for pretty uncomplicated companions though very stinky.
Every day we walked for around 7 hours. My state of mind needed around a day to really accept that fact. If you are once able to stop thinking, walking feels like a meditative act. And that's the hardest part – to really to stop thinking about anything. If you manage it, you find yourself in an inner space – only you, that place, and your feet on the ground.
The landscape in the Sahara is ever changing. From huge dunes and completely flat dried ground to green palm oasis and even water which makes the Draa river – Morocco's longest river.
As I was sitting on one of the sand dunes, overlooking the immenseness of this wide and open space, I was completely overwhelmed.
Beauty in its purest form as I never saw it before. I felt tiny, like a grain of sand. The nights are freezing cold. As soon as the sun disappears behind the dunes, the temperatures drop drastically. It seems the nomads don‘t even really care about it. The dunes are their blanket and the the moon their flashlight.
"You can‘t find more holiness of silence than you do in the Sahara“, Sai, on of the nomads, was telling me. "It is blending into your soul and your mind.“
Text and photo Stefanie Moshammer