Lonnie Snowden: Ed Snowden’s Dad & Computers

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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Who is Lonnie Snowden? What does Lonnie Snowden do? What is the relationship between Ed and Lonnie like?

Lonnie Snowden is the father of Edward Snowden. He served in the Coast Guard.

Read more about Lonnie Snowden and his relationship with Edward Snowden.

Lonnie Snowden: Edward’s Father and Computers in The House

As a child, Ed liked spying. In his parents’ house, there was a window between his room and the den and he would spy on his family members as they watched TV, did chores, or in the case of his father Lonnie, played with technology.

In his work as an engineer with the Coast Guard, Lonnie Snowden often had access to new technology and sometimes he brought it home. One day, Lonnie brought home a Commodore 64, one of the first home computers. Ed spied on his father while he played Choplifter! 

Ed got caught, but his father wasn’t mad. Instead, Lonnie let Ed sit on his lap as he played Choplifter! He even gave Ed an unplugged joystick so he could pretend to play along.

Edward Snowden’s Father Taught Him to Fix Nintendo

When Ed was seven, the Nintendo stopped working. Ed tried the only fix he knew—blowing into the slots where the game and console connected to clear out the dust. It didn’t work, so he took the Nintendo apart, which was what he’d seen Lonnie do with electronics that weren’t working. Ed didn’t know how to repair it and ended up making the problem worse. 

When Lonnie Snowden got home, he explained that to fix things, you can’t just look for a broken part, you also have to consider how and why something had gone wrong. He showed Ed what every part of the Nintendo did on its own and how it worked together with the other parts. According to Lonnie, fixing things wasn’t just about fixing the existing design. If something is set up in the most efficient way and just malfunctioning, then all you have to do is fix it. But if there’s something off with the design, you have to improve it.

Lonnie Snowden’s 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.

Edward Snowden: Father Exposed Him to More Technology

To fix the Nintendo, Lonnie Snowden wanted to use some special equipment at the Coast Guard base, so he brought Ed to work. The base had advanced (for the time) computers. Up until this point, Ed had only used video game consoles. While Lonnie fixed the Nintendo, he gave Ed some simple instructions to type into the computer. Ed found typing much more natural than writing (he was left-handed but forced to become a rightie) and loved that he had the power to tell a machine to do something. He realized gaming systems had nothing on computers—you could interact with them and play through levels, but you couldn’t change the game. With a computer, you could do anything, and anyone could reproduce it. 

Edward Snowden: Father Saw Him Before Ed Blew the Whistle

Towards the end of 2012 or early 2013, Ed returned to Fort Meade for training and to meet his new colleagues and bosses. It would be the last time Ed would see his family. He went for dinner with his dad, who he knew wouldn’t have approved of what Ed was about to do—Lonnie Snowden would have called the cops or had him committed.

Lonnie Snowden: Ed Snowden’s Dad & Computers

———End of Preview———

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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