– Spring/Summer 1999

What Is to Be Screened: Net Utopians and Their Discontents

Josephine Berry

When John Perry Barlow wrote A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace in 1996, during the late summer of Internet fever, he positively revelled in the new fleshlessness of the medium and its huge distance from the lumbering materiality of the old world and its old media. 'Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel,' he blasted, 'I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone.'

In this short manifesto. Barlow erects an 'electronic frontier' between the legislature, markets and social mores of what he terms elsewhere 'Meatspace' and the radical otherness of cyberspace. The fundamental contention of the Declaration is that the powers that be in 'Meatspace' have no jurisdiction over cyberspace because it is not a world 'where bodies live'. Its radical disjuncture from the old world, enshrined in a firm belief in the divisibility of mind and body, is the justification for disregarding the powers of state and society with impunity. 'Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us,' nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders.' The assumption being made here is that the formal and informal laws which comprise the 'social contract' can only operate upon a material entity, a body, which is locatable and apprehendible in physical space. Barlow's further

  1. Ted Byfield & Geert Lovink, Net Criticism 2.0: A Fast Conversation of Two Moderators, http://www.desk.nl/~nettime/

  2. Richard Barbrook, The Holy Fools: A Critique of the Avant-Garde in the age of the Net, London: Hypermedia Research Centre, University of Westminster, 1998, p.77

  3. Ibid., p.17

  4. Critical Art Ensemble, The Flesh Machine: Cyborgs, Designer Babies and New Eugenic Consciousness, New York: Autonomedia, 1998, p.5

  5. Ibid., p.6

  6. Ibid., p.150

  7. Ibid.

  8. Ibid., p.78

  9. R. Barbrook, op. cit., p.64

  10. Ibid., p.73

  11. Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, Cooking Pot Markets: An Economic Model for the Trade in Free Goods and Services on the Internet, 1998, http://dxm.org/tcok/cookingpot/

  12. Ibid.

  13. Hal Foster, The Return of the Real, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996, p.140

  14. Ibid., p.153

  15. Ibid., p.142

  16. Ibid., p.141