There is something both strange and familiar about Permanent Record, Edward Snowden’s autobiography. The book traces Snowden’s story to now. Whether it is being mesmerised by his father’s Commodore 64, pulling apart a Nintendo as a six year old, growing up online, hacking his education by acing tests, but refusing to submit homework, automating work wherever possible or teaching others about the web, each act recounted is seemingly fated to produce the same extricable outcome – Snowden’s revelations NSA’s surveillance of the world and his life since.
Although raised in a world away from my own, there was something relate-able about growing up during the same time. Whether it be my own hand-me-down Apple IIe and then a Nintendo, I too was lucky enough to grow up with and alongside technology. However, I have never quite taken this fascination to the point where I truly appreciate the ghosts in the machine as Snowden has. Although venturing on the web at school and tinkered with my own computer, my family did not get the internet til late and I did not really grow-up in message boards. There seems to be something privileged about those who were on the early web. This maybe what helped created the close sense of community. (Listen to Howard Rheingold’s interview on the Modern Learners Podcast for an example.)
Although Permanent Record talks a lot about technology, it is far from just another technological book. Even with the discussions about privacy, content and metadata, this is not so much about ‘how to’, but rather a why. For me, the book is first and fore-mostly about humans, society and democracy. Therefore, I think it is best considered as a meditation on the world we want today and tomorrow.
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