At some point earlier this year someone wrote an article related to information warfare that quoted Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, prompting numerous recommendations from friends and readers. While I can’t for the life of me find that article, I did come across a copy of Snow Crash in a great SciFi bookshop in Gamla Stan Stockholm. This dark near-future novel became my fun summer reading, urged on by repeated follow up from a friend in Boston who wanted to know how I liked one of his favourite books. The pressure was clearly on.

In the end the recommendations lived up to expectations. Snow Crash is an enduring book for understanding our current times. The style of writing, which is extremely immersive in a near-future, high-tech sort of way, was jarring at first to jump into, but once the reader starts to grasp the new lexicon and framing, the storyline becomes very engaging.

What is particularly striking about Snow Crash is that while it is tech-heavy, the premise of the story isn’t about technology, but human cognition, which is also likely why the book doesn’t feel dated at a time when changes in the field seem so rapid. This aptly reflects our current situation.

Rapid developments in ICTs have drastically transformed all aspects of human existence and ICTs have become so pervasive we don’t even see them anymore. But this focus on technology as the problem misses the point. Technology changes quickly. Strategically speaking, looking for a technical solution for today’s challenges is short-sighted. But there is one constant we seem to continue to ignore – behind the infrastructure, the data, the perceptions there are people. Stephenson seems to get this – and it is an important message we need to heed.

There is a reason why the publisher’s description is so vague, and spoil the book I will not. Perhaps a little bit of mystery will encourage others to pick up a copy too. Snow Crash is definitely a pleasant and worthwhile read. Thanks for the recommendations and “encouragement”!

Snow Crash is available on Amazon – but I picked my paperback copy up at the Science Fiction Bokhandeln in Stockholm.

Cover Image: An anti-alcohol Soviet propaganda poster by A.E. Bazilevich from 1972

About Author

La Generalista is the online identity of Alicia Wanless – a researcher and practitioner of strategic communications for social change in a Digital Age. Alicia is the director of the Partnership for Countering Influence Operations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. With a growing international multi-stakeholder community, the Partnership aims to foster evidence-based policymaking to counter threats within the information environment. Wanless is currently a PhD Researcher at King’s College London exploring how the information environment can be studied in similar ways to the physical environment. She is also a pre-doctoral fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, and was a tech advisor to Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder. Her work has been featured in Lawfare, The National Interest, Foreign Policy, and CBC.

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