John Perry Barlow...@Home on the Ranch... Doors2

J O H N . P E R R Y . B A R L O W

@H o m e . o n . t h e . R a n c h

I am honoured to be kicking off this conference, and I feel uniquely qualified to do so because I live right here, right now. I am home at this moment. A couple of years ago, my youngest daughter (who was then in the first grade) was talking with her class about homelessness and the horrors of being homeless and she said `My daddy's homeless and he makes it look like a good thing.' And I am trying to make it look like a good thing because I think that it's going to be, for many of us, typical of the modern condition of what we will call home.

I was raised in a part of the United States which is only very recently civilised... if civilised is what it is now. I was born and raised in that house with the red roof there. The ranch you see in the photograph is located in a county that is larger than the Netherlands and has a population of 3,500 people. It is five miles to the nearest ranch, and this home had a kind of personal affiliation that many homes do not because it had been literally carved out the wilderness by my grandfather and his uncle who was the first white man to ever spend a winter in this valley.

Growing up there, I had all those things that we associate with home in its 19th century, romanticised American sense. I was part of a real community, a small but densely interdependent community. And I lived in the company of all the folks who worked on the ranch. These were an odd lot, in that being an employer of last resort, we got some of the most interesting variations on the human theme you could imagine. And I was raised by that group in an essentially tribal condition. We didn't have electricity most of the time that I was growing up. The road to town would blow closed in the winter time and we would have to go out in a sleigh. It was a very different kind of condition from the one that I experience today.

And it was a condition I experienced without much grounds for comparison until I was about 14 years old. Then like every other hick kid in every other hick town, I started to become resentful of the isolation and backwaterdom of Pinedale, Wyoming and started to manifest that discontent with acts of petty vandalism and general adolescent miscreance, and was essentially kicked out of town. My father was a politician, and he was told that if he ever wanted to get elected to public office again he was going to have to get me the hell out of sight, and so he did. I thought that was a great thing and so did the people of Pinedale. So I was sent off to prep school and I didn't return to Wyoming for ten years.

Upon leaving, I expected never to return. I had no desire to be a rancher. I had no desire to live in this little jerkwater burg where all they wanted to talk about was cattle prices and the weather. I had no desire to live in a place where the people knew things about me that I didn't even know yet... which is still the case.

But the startling thing I experienced when I got into the outside world was that few I met there seemed to come from anywhere at all. In America, most people now come from this strange place that has gradually obliterated most local cultural content - it's all Generica now. The average American moves 17 times over the course of his or her life. And they move from one suburban enclave or to another. These are generally interchangeable places whether called Shaker Heights or Palo Alto, and they are all basically Television land. Modern America is actually a case of virtual reality being written onto the landscape itself, being placed there like a kind of decal.

So all of a sudden, having a sense of self that was based on the hard scrabble, extremely non-committal style of my fellow Wyomingites felt like an asset, having an accent was an asset, having a sense of where I came from was an asset which I played up to the best of my theatrical abilities. But I still had no desire to go home. I just wanted to act like somebody who had one. I was pretty good at it and I still am. But I had no sense of what I had to do in order to earn that home. I spent ten years doing various things, going to India, sitting on the top of a mountain with a guru, taking a lot of LSD - the things that a reckless young fellow did during that period.

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