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d no ability to arrest people. They
carried out no phreak and hacker covert dirty-tricks.
But they really knew how to network.
Unlike the other groups in this book, the civil
libertarians have operated very much in the open, more or
less right in the public hurly-burly. They have lectured
audiences galore and talked to countless journalists, and
have learned to refine their spiels. They've kept the
cameras clicking, kept those faxes humming, swapped
that email, run those photocopiers on overtime, licked
envelopes and spent small fortunes on airfare and long-
distance. In an information society, this open, overt,
obvious activity has proven to be a profound advantage.
In 1990, the civil libertarians of cyberspace
assembled out of nowhere in particular, at warp speed.
This "group" (actually, a networking gaggle of interested
parties which scarcely deserves even that loose term) has
almost nothing in the way of formal organization. Those
formal civil libertarian organizations which did take an
interest in cyberspace issues, mainly the Computer
Professionals for Social ъesponsibility and the American
Civil Liberties Union, were carried along by events in 1990,
and acted mostly as adjuncts, underwriters or launching-
The civil libertarians nevertheless enjoyed the
greatest success of any of the groups in the Crackdown of
1990. At this writing, their future looks rosy and the
political initiative is firmly in their hands. This should
be kept in mind as we study the highly unlikely lives and
lifestyles of the people who actually made this happen.
In June 1989, Apple Computer, Inc., of Cupertino,
California, had a problem. Someone had illicitly copied a
small piece of Apple's proprietary software, software which
controlled an internal chip driving the Macintosh screen
display. This Color QuickDraw source code was a closely
guarded piece of Apple's intellectual property. Only
trusted Apple insiders were supposed to possess it.
But the "NuPrometheus League" wanted things
otherwise. This person (or persons) made several illicit
copies of this source code, perhaps as many as two dozen.
He (or she, or they) then put those illicit floppy disks
into envelopes and mailed them to people all over America:
people in the computer industry who were associated with,
but not directly employed by, Apple Computer.
The NuPrometheus caper was a complex, highly
ideological, and very hacker-like crime. Prometheus, it
will be recalled, stole the fire of the Gods and gave this
potent gift to the general ranks of downtrodden mankind.
A similar god-in-the-manger attitude was implied for the
corporate elite of Apple Computer, while the "Nu"
Prometheus had himself cast in the role of rebel demigod.
The illicitly copied data was given away for free.
The new Prometheus, whoever he was, escaped the
fate of the ancient Greek Prometheus, who was chained to
a rock for centuries by the vengeful gods while an eagle
tore and ate his liver. On the other hand, NuPrometheus
chickened out somewhat by comparison with his role
model. The small chunk of Color QuickDraw code he had
filched and replicated was more or less useless to Apple's
industrial rivals (or, in fact, to anyone else). Instead
of giving fire to mankind, it was more as if NuPrometheus
had photocopied the schematics for part of a Bic lighter.
The act was not a genuine work of industrial espionage. It
was best interpreted as a symbolic, deliberate slap in the
face for the Apple corporate heirarchy.
Apple's internal struggles were well-known in the
industry. Apple's founders, Jobs and Wozniak, had both
taken their leave long since. Their raucous core of senior
employees had been a barnstorming crew of 1960s
Californians, many of them markedly less than happy with
the new button-down multimillion dollar regime at Apple.
Many of the programmers and developers who had
invented the Macintosh model in the early 1980s had also
taken their leave of the company. It was they, not the
current masters of Apple's corporate fate, who had
invented the stolen Color QuickDraw code. The
NuPrometheus stunt was well-calculated to wound
Apple called the FBI. The Bureau takes an interest in
high-profile intellectual-property theft cases, industrial
espionage and theft of trade secrets. These were likely
the right people to call, and rumor has it that the entities
responsible were in fact discovered by the FBI, and then
quietly squelched by Apple management. NuPrometheus
was never publicly charged with a crime, or prosecuted, or
jailed. But there were no further illicit releases of
Macintosh internal software. Eventually the painful issue
of NuPrometheus was allowed to fade.
In the meantime, however, a large number of puzzled
bystanders found themselves entertaining surprise guests
from the FBI.
One of these people was John Perry Barlow. Barlow
is a most unusual man, difficult to describe in
conventional terms. He is perhaps best known as a
songwriter for the Grateful Dead, for he composed lyrics
for "Hell in a Bucket," "Picasso Moon," "Mexicali Blues,"
"I Need a Miracle," and many more; he has been writing
for the band since 1970.
Before we tackle the vexing question as to why a rock
lyricist should be interviewed by the FBI in a computer-
crime case, it might be well to say a word or two about the
Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead are perhaps the most
successful and long-lasting of the numerous cultural
emanations from the Haight-Ashbury district of San
Francisco, in the glory days of Movement politics and
lysergic transcendance. The Grateful Dead are a nexus, a
veritable whirlwind, of applique decals, psychedelic vans,
tie-dyed T-shirts, earth-color denim, frenzied dancing and
open and unashamed drug use. The symbols, and the
realities, of Californian freak power surround the Grateful
Dead like knotted macrame.
The Grateful Dead and their thousands of Deadhead
devotees are radical Bohemians. This much is widely
understood. Exactly what this implies in the 1990s is
rather more problematic.
The Grateful Dead are among the world's most
popular and wealthy entertainers: number 20, according
to *Forbes* magazine, right between M.C. Hammer and
Sean Connery. In 1990, this jeans-clad group of purported
raffish outcasts earned seventeen million dollars. They
have been earning sums much along this line for quite
some time now.
And while the Dead are not investment bankers or
three-piece-suit tax specialists -- they are, in point of
hippie musicians -- this money has not been squandered
in senseless Bohemian excess. The Dead have been
quietly active for many years, funding various worthy
activities in their extensive and widespread cultural
The Grateful Dead are not conventional players in
the American power establishment. They nevertheless
are something of a force to be reckoned with. They have a
lot of money and a lot of friends in many places, both
likely and unlikely.
The Dead may be known for back-to-the-earth
environmentalist rhetoric, but this hardly makes them
anti-technological Luddites. On the contrary, like most
rock musicians, the Grateful Dead have spent their entire
adult lives in the company of complex electronic
equipment. They have funds to burn on any sophisticated
tool and toy that might happen to catch their fancy. And
their fancy is quite extensive.
The Deadhead community boasts any number of
recording engineers, lighting experts, rock video mavens,
electronic technicians of all descriptions. And the drift
goes both ways. Steve Wozniak, Apple's co-founder, used
to throw rock festivals. Silicon Valley rocks out.
These are the 1990s, not the 1960s. Today, for a
surprising number of people all over America, the
supposed dividing line between Bohemian and technician
simply no longer exists. People of this sort may have a set
of windchimes and a dog with a knotted kerchief 'round its
neck, but they're also quite likely to own a multimegabyte
Macintosh running MIDI synthesizer software and trippy
fractal simulations. These days, even Timothy Leary
himself, prophet of LSD, does virtual-reality computer-
graphics demos in his lecture tours.
John Perry Barlow is not a member of the Grateful
Dead. He is, however, a ranking Deadhead.
Barlow describes himself as a "techno-crank." A
vague term like "social activist" might not be far from the
mark, either. But Barlow might be better described as a
"poet" -- if one keeps in mind Percy Shelley's archaic
definition of poets as "unacknowledged legislators of the
Barlow once made a stab at acknowledged legislator
status. In 1987, he narrowly missed the ъepublican
nomination for a seat in the Wyoming State Senate.
Barlow is a Wyoming native, the third-generation scion of
a well-to-do cattle-ranching family. He is in his early
forties, married and the father of three daughters.
Barlow is not much troubled by other people's narrow
notions of consistency. In the late 1980s, this ъepublican
rock lyricist cattle rancher sold his ranch and became a
computer telecommunications devotee.
The free-spirited Barlow made this transition with
ease. He genuinely enjoyed computers. With a beep of
his modem, he leapt from small-town Pinedale, Wyoming,
into electronic contact with a large and lively crowd of
bright, inventive, technological sophisticates from all over
the world. Barlow found the social milieu of computing
attractive: its fast-lane pace, its blue-sky rhetoric, its
endedness. Barlow began dabbling in computer
journalism, with marked success, as he was a quick study,
and both shrewd and eloquent. He frequently travelled to
San Francisco to network with Deadhead friends. There
Barlow made extensive contacts throughout the
Californian computer community, including friendships
among the wilder spirits at Apple.
In May 1990, Barlow received a visit from a local
Wyoming agent of the FBI. The NuPrometheus case had
Barlow was troubled to find himself under
investigation in an area of his interests once quite free of
federal attention. He had to struggle to explain the very
nature of computer-crime to a headscratching local FBI
man who specialized in cattle-rustling. Barlow, chatting
helpfully and demonstrating the wonders of his modem to
the puzzled fed, was alarmed to find all "hackers"
generally under FBI suspicion as an evil influence in the
electronic community. The FBI, in pursuit of a hacker
called "NuPrometheus," were tracing attendees of a
suspect group called the Hackers Conference.
The Hackers Conference, which had been started in
1984, was a yearly Californian meeting of digital pioneers
and enthusiasts. The hackers of the Hackers Conference
had little if anything to do with the hackers of the digital
underground. On the contrary, the hackers of this
conference were mostly well-to-do Californian high-tech
CEOs, consultants, journalists and entrepreneurs. (This
group of hackers were the exact sort of "hackers" most
likely to react with militant fury at any criminal
degradation of the term "hacker.")
Barlow, though he was not arrested or accused of a
crime, and though his computer had certainly not gone
out the door, was very troubled by this anomaly. He
carried the word to the Well.
Like the Hackers Conference, "the Well" was an
emanation of the Point Foundation. Point Foundation,
the inspiration of a wealthy Californian 60s radical named
Stewart Brand, was to be a major launch-pad of the civil
Point Foundation's cultural efforts, like those of
fellow Bay Area Californians the Grateful Dead, were
multifaceted and multitudinous. ъigid ideological
consistency had never been a strong suit of the *Whole
Earth Catalog.* This Point publication had enjoyed a
strong vogue during the late 60s and early 70s, when it
offered hundreds of practical (and not so practical) tips on
communitarian living, environmentalism, and getting
back-to-the-land. The *Whole Earth Catalog,* and its
sequels, sold two and half million copies and won a
National Book Award.
With the slow collapse of American radical dissent,
the *Whole Earth Catalog* had slipped to a more modest
corner of the cultural radar; but in its magazine
incarnation, *CoEvolution Quarterly,* the Point
Foundation continued to offer a magpie potpourri of
"access to tools and ideas."
*CoEvolution Quarterly,* which started in 1974, was
never a widely popular magazine. Despite periodic
outbreaks of millenarian fervor, *CoEvolution Quarterly*
failed to revolutionize Western civilization and replace
leaden centuries of history with bright new Californian
paradigms. Instead, this propaganda arm of Point
Foundation cakewalked a fine line between impressive
brilliance and New Age flakiness. *CoEvolution
Quarterly* carried no advertising, cost a lot, and came out
on cheap newsprint with modest black-and-white
graphics. It was poorly distributed, and spread mostly by
subscription and word of mouth.
It could not seem to grow beyond 30,000 subscribers.
And yet -- it never seemed to shrink much, either. Year in,
year out, decade in, decade out, some strange
demographic minority accreted to support the magazine.
The enthusiastic readership did not seem to have much in
the way of coherent politics or ideals. It was sometimes
hard to understand what held them together (if the often
bitter debate in the letter-columns could be described as
But if the magazine did not flourish, it was resilient;
got by. Then, in 1984, the birth-year of the Macintosh
computer, *CoEvolution Quarterly* suddenly hit the
rapids. Point Foundation had discovered the computer
revolution. Out came the *Whole Earth Software Catalog*
of 1984, arousing headscratching doubts among the tie-
dyed faithful, and rabid enthusiasm among the nascent
"cyberpunk" milieu, present company included. Point
Foundation started its yearly Hackers Conference, and
began to take an extensive interest in the strange new
possibilities of digital counterculture. *CoEvolution
Quarterly* folded its teepee, replaced by *Whole Earth
Software ъeview* and eventually by *Whole Earth
ъeview* (the magazine's present incarnation, currently
under the editorship of virtual-reality maven Howard
1985 saw the birth of the "WELL" -- the "Whole Earth
'Lectronic Link." The Well was Point Foundation's
bulletin board system.
As boards went, the Well was an anomaly from the
beginning, and remained one. It was local to San
Francisco. It was huge, with multiple phonelines and
enormous files of commentary. Its complex UNIX-based
software might be most charitably described as "user-
opaque." It was run on a mainframe out of the rambling
offices of a non-profit cultural foundation in Sausalito.
And it was crammed with fans of the Grateful Dead.
Though the Well was peopled by chattering hipsters
of the Bay Area counterculture, it was by no means a
"digital underground" board. Teenagers were fairly
scarce; most Well users (known as "Wellbeings") were
thirty- and forty-something Baby Boomers. They tended
to work in the information industry: hardware, software,
telecommunications, media, entertainment. Librarians,
academics, and journalists were especially common on
the Well, attracted by Point Foundation's open-handed
distribution of "tools and ideas."
There were no anarchy files on the Well, scarcely a
dropped hint about access codes or credit-card theft. No
one used handles. Vicious "flame-wars" were held to a
comparatively civilized rumble. Debates were sometimes
sharp, but no Wellbeing ever claimed that a rival had
disconnected his phone, trashed his house, or posted his
credit card numbers.
The Well grew slowly as the 1980s advanced. It
charged a modest sum for access and storage, and lost
money for years -- but not enough to hamper the Point
Foundation, which was nonprofit anyway. By 1990, the
Well had about five thousand users. These users
wandered about a gigantic cyberspace smorgasbord of
"Conferences", each conference itself consisting of a
welter of "topics," each topic containing dozens,
sometimes hundreds of comments, in a tumbling,
multiperson debate that could last for months or years on
In 1991, the Well's list of conferences looked like
CONFEъENCES ON THE WELL
WELL "Screenzine" Digest (g zine)
Best of the WELL - vintage material -
Index listing of new topics in all conferences - (g
Business - Education
Apple Library Users Group(g alug) Agriculture (g agri)
Brainstorming (g brain) Classifieds
Computer Journalism (g cj) Consultants (g consult)
Consumers (g cons) Design
Desktop Publishing (g desk) Disability (g
Education (g ed) Energy
Entrepreneurs (g entre) Homeowners (g
Indexing (g indexing) Investments (g
Kids91 (g kids) Legal
One Person Business (g one)
Telecomm Law (g tcl) The Future
Translators (g trans) Travel
Work (g work)
Electronic Frontier Foundation (g eff)
Computers, Freedom & Privacy (g cfp)
Computer Professionals for Social ъesponsibility (g cpsr)
Social - Political - Humanities
Aging (g gray) AIDS
Amnesty International (g amnesty) Archives (g
Berkeley (g berk) Buddhist (g
Christian (g cross) Couples
Current Events (g curr) Dreams (g
Drugs (g dru) East
Coast (g east)
Emotional Health**** (g private) Erotica (g
Environment (g env) Firearms (g
First Amendment (g first) Fringes of ъeason (g fringes)
Gay (g gay) Gay (Private)#
Geography (g geo) German
Gulf War (g gulf) Hawaii
Health (g heal) History
Holistic (g holi)
Interview (g inter)
Italian (g ital) Jewish
Liberty (g liberty) Mind
Miscellaneous (g misc) Men on the WELL** (g mow)
Network Integration (g origin) Nonprofits
North Bay (g north) Northwest
Pacific ъim (g pacrim) Parenting
Peace (g pea) Peninsula
Poetry (g poetry) Philosophy
Politics (g pol)
Psychology (g psy)
Psychotherapy (g thera