Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Precis: A Cyberspace Independence Declaration

Barlow’s text: A Cyberspace Independence Declaration is essentially a reactionary text due to the passing of the Telecommunication Act of 1996, and more specifically Title V of the Act, called the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which criminalizes the intentional transmission of “any comment, request, suggestion, image, or other communications which is obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent...." or as Barlow puts it:
“After all, the Telecom "Reform" Act, passed in the Senate with only 5 dissenting votes, makes it unlawful, and punishable by a $250,000 to say "shit" online. Or, for that matter, to say any of the other 7 dirty words prohibited in broadcast media. Or to discuss abortion openly. Or to talk about any bodily function in any but the most clinical terms.”

The text consists of two parts, the first being at text to the users of the Internet explaining the basics of the Telecom Act of 1996 while bashing the United Sates Senate as often as possible. Barlow also set up two key elements of the text, the first being the reverences and compassion to the Revolutionary War: “Given the atrocity that this legislation would seek to inflict on the Net, I decided it was as good a time as any to dump some tea in the virtual harbor.” The second key element of the text is the way Barlow speaks about “Cyberspace” as a place you go to but leave your body behind.

The second part of the text in the section called A Cyberspace Independence Declaration is rant like manifesto of sorts directed at “Governments of the Industrial World”. Barlow sets out to show how the Cyberspace is a place that exists outside the borders of bureaucracy, full of bodiless identities that cannot be incarcerated. These identities have no elected government but rather a governance based on social contracts and the only law that is generally recognized is the “Golden Rule”. I particularly like this section:

“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.”

One concerning claim that Barlow makes is that the internet is a world you can enter without privilege or prejudice, that anyone no matter what background is free to enter this world and express themselves openly. While I would agree that once you “enter” or use the Internet there maybe this freedom of expression but you have to get on the Internet to have this which costs money. Also Barlow has established a “we” and it is unclear who this we is. At points in the text the “we” seems like the technologically elite who use the internet for the greater good and to others it may seem like anyone who has used or uses the internet. What is clear is that Barlow sees the cyberspace as the civilization of future full of identities whose freedom is being threatened by the “Governments of the Industrial World”, and that we must rise up against it.

“We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.”

According to Wikiapedia Act V of Telecommunication Act of 1996 was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S Supreme Court for being a violation of the First Amendment

For more information on the Telecommunication Act of 1996 try this links:



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