One Man’s Remembrance of John Walker
I knew John Walker for about 10 years, almost entirely via the internet, save for two personal visits (lasting a few hours each) to Fourmilab in Lignieres, Switzerland. In that regard, I am merely one of many fortunate end-users of his websites. I understand this fact in the context of his being a trailblazer many times over, this time by forging what I believe to be a new layer of human relationships: genuine i-Friendships. In marked contrast to supposed “friends” of the polluting (anti-)social media arenas (yes, I mean in the sense of Christian vs. lion) John Walker created and maintained sites which offered users eclectic information, services of interest to many, and they were all free of charge. On his sites, he wrote and curated essays and links to eclectic areas of interest, usually in the public domain. On Scanalyst and its predecessor, Ratburger (which suffered the finally fatal curse of Wordpress, as John recounted for us, painfully), posts were not “moderated” (i.e. censored). John, himself, was a quiet, giant intellect, who had the exceedingly rare ability among geniuses and polymaths - which he undoubtedly was in the fullest sense of those words - to explain complex matters to lesser minds like mine; he did so without a trace of condescension. His generosity in this regard was tremendous and has been widely recognized, as a brief perusal of his posts on Scanalyst - or, indeed any of his writings - will show.
Scanalyst was Fourmilab’s latest iteration and refinement of John’s fundamental commitment to untrammeled, civil and wholesome communication via the internet. He delineated threats to such open communication so presciently in The Digital Imprimatur, if you didn’t know it was written 21 years ago, you might be forgiven for thinking it was written yesterday. His ability to foresee future developments in networking and computing are documented with fine granularity in The Autodesk File. That publication, in multiple formats and in the public domain, clearly shows his uncanny ability to foresee emerging milestones in the capabilities of personal computers (then termed “micro-“). It is a study in organization and dissemination of information necessary to create a new software company. Also therein, he persuasively defined the intellectual capital underlying what he calls “The New Technological Corporation”. Invest an hour reading this document and you will gain some insight into what I believe to be one of the finest minds of the century, if not a millennium! Studying the book containing this essay - The Autodesk File - IMO, should be a core component of any MBA program.
Scanalyst is a small tribal effort (open to anyone with manners wishing to participate) effort - a voluntary community - self-assembled to understand and describe reality - from cosmic to Planck-size, of the material universe; the nature and meaning of human existence and consciousness; the role of information and its manipulation. Between-the-lines, a recurring theme of Scanalyst was figuring out what was possible in connections between each other among flesh-and-blood people, as well as between ourselves and possible silicon-based entities of the future.
John Walker created unique online forums which probably only he could have created and maintained. These creations were, in all honesty, a central part of my life for the past decade. Every participant with whom I have communicated describes a penetrating sense of loss. This mourner believes that the community John created and attracted (not promoted) is a new and genuine phenomenon and serves as a poignant legacy. It is so far superior to the so-called “social networks” as to represent a categorical difference. In the same way he saw the evolving power of personal computers as he iterated Autodesk, he foresaw the evolving needs of real people’s wishes for decent online communities, free of commercial contaminants; users as worthy gems in their own right and not data repositories to be mined. Fourmilab and Scanalyst are worthy of John and of survival. And present members are in the process of assuring that as part of his much-deserved legacy.
I am comforted somewhat, for myself, because I did tell John - many times - how grateful I was for everything he created for my (and our) benefit. I am particularly glad that I specifically told him that his efforts were responsible for keeping me intellectually (and even emotionally) alive in this, the winter of my life. He was a living heuristic - a word which I understand as belonging to him - but which he freely used and loaned continuously. I don’t know for sure if i-love is a ‘thing’. Whether or not it is, I feel it for John Walker.