It’s a novel; a register. In excruciating detail, every painful/stupid/blissful/incriminating moment sits.
Have you ever read through your email inbox from years ago? Better still, have you hung on to ancient instant messaging records? I have, and it serves as the immortal documentation for my coming of age. I won and I lost in those fleeting sentiments typed into a screen. My confessional, through all of high school and all of college. Lies, lots of them; more than my brain would let me remember. Love. Hate. Fear. Shame. Oblivion. Joy. I whispered my secrets—my small, daily secrets—through fingers and keys and into the machines. Some of the end recipients would change with time (and the method of change, the rate of it, seems so blindingly obvious in retrospect) but the machines saw it all, every last byte. In the end, they were the most constant confidant, the one common thread through each haltingly typed exchange.
It’s a powerful body of work—more content than can be attributed to even the most prolific pre-digital authors. In a single generation, our individual histories have shifted from puffs of smoke in a wind to drops of water in an ocean. It’s easy to convince ourselves that they are the same thing: reminders of our transient significance. But as any good magician knows, vanishing is worlds apart from merely disappearing—what if the rabbit were ever pulled back out of the hat? What if your drop fell into someone else’s hands?
These are the things I talk about when people ask me why their email should be encrypted. I’m not talking about governments or spies or terrorists or criminals; I’m talking about normal people who do normal things that would never, ever agree to let a company hold a copy of every physical letter they’ve ever sent or received in a warehouse somewhere for safekeeping, and yet we do the virtual equivalent of it every single day with email (and, occasionally, instant messaging). Privacy is not an old-fashioned ideal; it is a necessary element of a free society.
That’s the motivation behind Parley.co, a project I started with Black Chair a few weeks ago. I won’t consider it a success until everyone I know is using it, and that might make it the most frighteningly ambitious thing I’ve ever set out to do.