Barger, the erudite blogging pioneer known for his influential Robotwisdom weblog, has disappeared repeatedly over the years, each time prompting friends, family and fans to wonder what’s happened to him.
Earlier this week, fans of Robotwisdom, which had been inactive for several weeks, received a scare when Barger’s roommate announced Barger had been missing physically for about two months, and had abandoned most of his possessions.
It turns out Barger had simply relocated to a new home in the small desert town of Socorro, New Mexico, without telling his roommate.
Barger was tracked down on Thursday by a friend and neighbor, William Schlake Colburn, a programmer at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro.
“He wasn’t in either high or low spirits,” said Colburn. “He didn’t say why he wanted to be invisible…. He doesn’t want to be found and he doesn’t want publicity.”
Barger leads a relatively reclusive life, according to a profile in Feed, but his absence online was hard to miss.
For years he’s been posting almost daily to his original and widely read Robotwisdom weblog, as well as Usenet. Robotwisdom hasn’t been updated since early October.
But the lack of posts didn’t alarm readers, at least initially, because Barger has taken unexpected sabbaticals before. Barger dropped out of sight in May, reappearing in July without explaining his absence. And he dropped off the Net in December 2001 because of financial difficulties, according to posts on his site.
His absences then, as now, worried his family in Chicago, from whom he has been estranged for a couple of years. Barger’s sister, Jaq Ellen Barger, said the family kept track of her brother through his website, and the lack of posts have always been troubling.
Barger’s most recent absence was the most alarming, Jaq Ellen said, because Barger’s roommate told them that he’d been missing for weeks, and he’d left behind most of his belongings, including money, ID, clothes and his computer.
“We were afraid he’d committed suicide, got into an accident or something, or got locked up,” she said.
On Monday, the roommate also contacted some of Barger’s friends as well as local police, according to Colburn. The roommate couldn’t be contacted for comment, and Socorro police didn’t return calls requesting information.
“I was in Socorro in mid-October, and a surprise visit to Jorn was on my to-do list,” Wagoner wrote in an e-mail. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance. I regret that now, as maybe I could have raised the alarm a lot sooner.”
Barger’s adventurous journeys across the Net and his intelligent and erudite selection of online reads have earned accolades from The New York Times, Wired magazine and The Register, among others. He has also attracted controversy. In the last couple of years his comments and posts regarding the Arab/Israeli conflict prompted accusations of anti-Semitism.
Colburn said he assumes Barger disappeared because of conflict with his roommate, “but why he went completely off the Internet, I don’t know.”
Barger couldn’t be contacted for comment, but in December 2001, just before a two-month absence, Barger announced he’d be going offline for financial reasons.
“There’s a strong likelihood I’ll have to cease all updates for a period of some months, while I try to get my finances back into the black,” Barger wrote at the time.
“If you’d like to see it continue uninterrupted, and if you can afford to make any contribution in that direction, please drop me a line at my new address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Job offers, preferably by telecommute, are also welcome. Or a really cheap room to rent.
“(I have a gigantic psychological block against Mammon-in-general, and no long-term ideas how to overcome it. Alternative currency? Retreat to a cave?)”