Little Brother

One of the covers of this book (the one reproduced below), has the following quote on the top of the page:

I’d recommend Little Brother over pretty much any book I’ve read this year

While I don’t know if that quote’s author meant either this year (2009) or the last one (when the book was published), in my case, it applies to both.

little_brother_cover

Drawing some elements from what’s arguably its predecessor, the novel is first and foremost, actual. It depicts, although in an exaggeratedly fast pace, changes that we are already starting to see happening throughout the world. In a bigger or smaller scale, the trend is always the same: increased surveillance, dwindling privacy and in some cases, free speech as well. The reason? Security and fighting against global terrorism.

This should be cause to widespread public discussions on topics such as privacy (both off and online), surveillance (idem), security, and the role of the internet in modern societies. But that has yet to happen (the “widespread” part at least) — probably because despite these changes being rolled out fast, they’re not fast enough:

If the low hum of a refrigerator were to increase in pitch over the course of several weeks, the appliance could be singing soprano by the end of the month and no one would be the wiser.

By fast-forwarding reality, the Little Brother will hopefully produce the same effect as reducing the time span during which the refrigerator has to go from a low hum to full blown soprano: the change will get noticed. Noticed in a way that prompts to action. And that action starts with realising that forfeiting your freedom to get security is useless (if not downright counter-productive). It starts with daring to be free, even when it’s the opposite passive subservience that becomes social norm (as it increasingly is). Here technology, while far from being enough on its own, does play a key role. And this is the other big plus of the book: despite being small (<400 pages), it's full of practical examples on to use technology to attain that goal. Now if on the one hand, tech-savvy readers will point out that some things have been (very) oversimplified, on the other hand the author does a great a job of explaining non-trivial technical ideas to a lay audience, mainly through the use of very good analogies.

The book is available for free here. Find some time and go read it. The fast-paced style will glue to the screen. When the soreness in your eyes gets you, order the dead tree version, and then read the rest. It’ll be a worthwhile read, because besides an engaging story, the whole book is a call to daring to be free. For while freedom is a right today, it is not (and never has been) a right without a price. And a part of that price is not being indifferent to it — i.e. daring to use it.

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