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Future Fossils #0033: Jon Lebkowsky on Pluralist Utopias & The World Wide Web's Wild West

Jul 13, 2017

This week's episode is brought to you by Visionary Magnets, the refrigerator poetry magnets that turn your boring old kitchen appliances into the substrate for woke invocations, tantric pillow talk, and other occult goofery.  Support their Kickstarter and "enlighten your fridge" today!  Or tomorrow.

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This week is a special double-length episode with Jon Lebkowsky, founder of EFF-Austin – one of the unsung heroes of Internet culture, whose tale stretches through the earliest web communities and reads like a list of landmark moments in the history of digital rights and culture.





We talk about the early days of hacking in the Wild West of the 1990s, how the World Wide Web has changed since then, and the promises and perils of the Internet in the 21st Century.  

It’s a winding tale of pseudonymous keyboard-slingers and federal raids, roleplaying game empires and sci-fi visionaries, centered on the unsuspecting hippie cowboy outpost of Austin, Texas, Once Upon A Time.

Enjoy this special conversation on the history of the Internet we know today, and a snapshot of the hopes and fears of life online in the dawn of our digital era…


- The threat of Internet-empowered fascism and “participation mystique” (or maybe worse, a corporate plutocracy) eroding rational civil discourse and the dignity of the individual

- The problems with “Net Neutrality” and how it makes more sense to focus on “The Freedom to Connect”

- Connectivity vs. Interdependence (OR) Networks vs. Buddhism

- Does the Noosphere already exist, and we’re just excavating it?

- The History of Electronic Frontier Foundation-Austin and how it was connected to the secret service’s raid of legendary role-playing game designer Steve Jackson (GURPS)

- The hilarious, troubled Dawn Age of e-commerce before secure web browsing

- Jon’s work with a Gurdjieff group and his encounters with esoterica as an editor of the Consciousness subdomain for the last issue of the Whole Earth Review

- Cybergrace, TechGnosis, and Millennial concerns about the mind/body split in the first Internet and our need to humanize technology with whole-body interfaces and MOVEMENT

- Embodied Virtual Reality & Other Full-Sensory Immersive Media

- Cory Doctorow’s new novel Walkaway as a banner book for the maker movement and a new form of cyber-social-liberation.

- The movement of political agency back into city-states in a digital era

- “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.”

- Shaping the future of wireless infrastructure in the early 00s of Austin

- Getting our values right before we imprint the wrong ones into superhuman AI

- Putting together diverse conversation groups to solve “wicked problems”

- New forms of participatory open-source politics suited for an internet age


Whole Earth Provisions, Whole Earth Review, The WELL, Whole Foods, William Gibson, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hakim Bey, William Irwin Thompson, Alien Covenant, Terminator, John Perry Barlow, Mitch Kapor, Mike Godwin, Bruce Sterling, Clay Shirky, WIRED Magazine, Fringeware, RoboFest, Heather Barfield, Neal Stephenson, Terence McKenna, Church of the Subgenius, Mondo 2000, Erik Davis, GI Gurdjieff, The National Science Fiction Convention, Rudy Rucker, Greg Bear, Jon Shirley, Jennifer Cobb, Robert Scoville, Greg Egan, Ernest Cline, Octopus Project, The Tingler, Honey I Shrunk The Kids (Ride), Charles Stross, Glass House, Rapture of the Nerds, Cory Doctorow, Alan Moore, Project Hieroglyph, Arizona State University, Jake Dunagan, Plutopia Productions, The Digital Convergence Initiative, Chris Boyd, South By Southwest, Boing Boing, Make Magazine, Dave Demaris, Maggie Duval, Bon Davis, DJ Spooky, Forest Mars, OS Con, RU Sirius, Shin Gojira, Open-Source Party,


“The Noosphere can certainly have pathologies…”

“The Internet was originally a peer-to-peer system, and so you had a network of networks, and they were all cooperating and carrying each other’s traffic, and so forth. And that was a fairly powerful idea, but the Internet is not that anymore. The Internet has, because of the way it’s evolved, because it’s become so powerful and so important and so critical, there are systems that are more dominant – backbone systems – and those are operated by large companies that understand how to operate big networks. That’s really a different system than the system that was originally built.”

“SO FAR we’ve managed to keep the Internet fairly open…the absolute idea of net neutrality might not be completely practical.”

“Science fiction is a literature of ideas, but a lot of those ideas do not manifest in exactly the way that they did in the book.”

“I don’t have a real high level of confidence that anybody understands exactly what the fuck is going on.”

“You couldn’t get a consumer account to get access to the Internet at that time. And in fact I think the first companies to do that were here in Austin.”

“At the time, we were the only game in town for internet stuff…”

“One thing I learned was, if you’re at the very cutting edge, it’s hard to make money.”

“There are a lot of people who aren’t in touch with themselves internally. Because it’s hard. It’s hard to do that.”

“I know that that’s sort of the goal in VR development: to give you a fully immersive experience where you’re really in a completely other reality, like in the Holodeck. But, you know. I’m still dealing with THIS reality. I don’t want another one.”

“In an online community, people are always itching for ways to get into real human proximity with one another. They’re always looking for ways to meet.”

“That’s my idea of what works now: is to have events that are experiences, you know, versus people just like, going to movies, or watching television, or going to a concert and watching a band play.”

“I keep thinking that we won’t be able to solve our problems with bureaucracy or the kind of governance structures that we’ve been living with, but I look around me and see people who are doing just fine, and doing great work, and living their lives…and I’m sort of feeling hopeful and a little bit confident that those people will step up and do what they need to do to make things work, even if our so-called elected officials aren’t doing it.”

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