Generations of Technology: Changes in Snowden’s Lifetime

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Permanent Record" by Edward Snowden. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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How have computers and other technology changed over the years? What did new generations of technology bring for society? How did this influence Edward Snowden’s life?

There are many technology differences between generations. If you are a tech-savvy teenager that’s tried to help an older relative, you’ve seen generational differences in technology use. Learn how Edward Snowden was in one of the newer generations of technology and what that meant.

Different Generations of Technology Use

When Edward Snowden was born in 1983, he was at the end of a generation and the start of a new technology-focused generation. His family had a long history of heroes and patriots. In fact, his mother was directly descended from the barrelmaker on the Mayflower. But technology was Ed’s future.

Ed saw changes in generations of technology firsthand. He saw the evolution of the internet and experienced its growing presence. Ed was part of the last generation whose childhood wasn’t digitized. Instead of his baby photos are in photo albums and home videos are on VHS. They aren’t on Facebook and YouTube. Of course, this also means that they won’t last forever, unlike their digital counterparts.

Fix-It Culture

One of the early generations of technology was fix-it culture. In the author’s parents’ generation, when something broke, you fixed it, or got it fixed. By the time the author’s generation came along, however, when something broke, it was easier, cheaper, and faster to just get a new one. Getting something fixed was often more expensive than buying a new version, and buying the parts and fixing it yourself was even more expensive.

As a result, no one really knows how a lot of technology works anymore. When it breaks, we’re at its mercy. This is a generational difference in technology use.

Online Personas

Next of the generations of technology Snowden experienced was the concept of an online persona. The internet used to be anonymous, but technology differences between generations changed that. In the 90s, your real self could be completely separate from the online persona or personas you portrayed. Online, you were free to be as creative and open as you liked. You never had to worry about your reputation, or looking like a hypocrite, or if people would make fun of your tacky GeoCities site. People posted about whatever they liked, hoping to sway others to their opinion. Because the Internet was anonymous, you could easily change your mind and reinvent yourself anytime. 

Having a different online persona was especially encouraged by role-playing games, especially MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games). You needed new, separate identities and had to create an avatar, or “alt.” It was also perfectly fine to have more than one “alt” and switch between them whenever you liked. 

That didn’t last. In the 2000s, the government and businesses started to link real-life identities and online roles. With new developments, futures generations and technology use will change.

Generations of Technology: Changes in Snowden’s Lifetime

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Edward Snowden's "Permanent Record" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Permanent Record summary:

  • What Ed Snowden discovered that caused him to completely lose faith in the government
  • How Snowden led the bombshell reports of US mass surveillance
  • How Snowden is coping with his treatment as both patriot and traitor

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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