- Hardcover: 276 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Edition Unstated edition (January 17, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393062287
- ISBN-13: 978-0393062281
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 120 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #738,666 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google Edition Unstated Edition
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
From Publishers Weekly
While it may seem that we're in the midst of an unprecedented technological transition, Carr (Does IT Matter?) posits that the direction of the digital revolution has a strong historical corollary: electrification. Carr argues that computing, no longer personal, is going the way of a power utility. Manufacturers used to provide their own power (i.e., windmills and waterwheels) until they plugged into the electric grid a hundred years ago. According to Carr, we're in the midst of a similar transition in computing, moving from our own private hard drives to the computer as access portal. Soon all companies and individuals will outsource their computing systems, from programming to data storage, to companies with big hard drives in out-of-the-way places. Carr's analysis of the recent past is clear and insightful as he examines common computing tools that are embedded in the Internet instead of stored on a hard drive, including Google and YouTube. The social and economic consequences of this transition into the utility age fall somewhere between uncertain and grim, Carr argues. Wealth will be further consolidated into the hands of a few, and specific industries, publishing in particular, will perish at the hands of crowdsourcing and the unbundling of content. However, Carr eschews an entirely dystopian vision for the future, hypothesizing without prognosticating. Perhaps lucky for us, he leaves a great number of questions unanswered. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Carr's provocations are destined to influence CEOs and the boards and investors that support them. -- Wall Street Journal
Compulsively readablefor nontechies, tooas it compellingly weaves together news stories, anecdotes, and data. -- Fast Company
Persuasive, well-researched, authoritative and convincing....He's reasonable in his conclusions and moderate in his extrapolations. This is an exceedingly good book. -- Techworld
Quick, clear read on an important theme. -- BusinessWeek
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
1- "What made large-scale electric utilities possible was a series of scientific and engineering breakthroughs - in electricity generation and transmission as well as in the design of electric motors - but what ensured their triumph was not technology but economics."
2- "At a purely economic level, the similarities between electricity and information technology are even more striking. Both are what economists call general purpose technologies...they can both be delivered efficiently over a network."
3- "If the electric dynamo was the machine that fashioned twentieth-century society - that made us who we are - the information dynamo is the machine that will fashion the new society of the twenty-first century."
4- "What the fiber-optic Internet does for computing is exactly what the alternating current network did for electricity: it makes the location of the equipment unimportant to the user. But it does more than that. Because the internet has been designed to accommodate any type of computer and any form of digital information, it also plays the role of Insull's rotary converter: it allows disparate and formerly incompatible machines to operate together as a single system. It creates harmony out of a cacophony. By providing a universal medium for data transmission and translation, the Net is spurring the creation of centralized computing plants that can serve thousands or millions of customers simultaneously. What companies used to have no choice but to supply themselves, they can now purchase as a service for a simple fee. And that means they can finally free themselves from their digital millwork."
5- "It will take many years for the utility computing system to mature. Like Edison and Insull before them, the pioneers of the new industry will face difficult business and technical challenges. They'll need to figure out the best ways to meter and set prices for different kinds of services. They'll need to become more adept at balancing loads and managing diversity factors as demand grows. They'll need to work with governments to establish effective regulatory regimes. They'll need to achieve new levels of security, reliability, and efficiency. Most daunting of all they'll need to convince big companies to give up control over their private systems and begin to dismantle the data centers into which they've plowed so much money. But these challenges will be met just as they were met before. The economics of computing have changed, and it's the new economics that are now guiding progress. the PC age is giving way to a new era: the utility age."
6- "Virtualization allows companies - or the utilities that serve them - to regain the high capacity utilization that characterized the mainframe age while gaining even more flexibility that they had during the PC age. It offers the best of both worlds."
7- "Some of the old-line companies will succeed in making the switch to the new model of computing; others will fail. But all of them would be wise to study the examples of General Electric and Westinghouse. A hundred years ago, both these companies were making a lot of money selling electricity production components and systems to individual companies. That business disappeared as big utilities took over electricity supply. But GE and Westinghouse were able to reinvent themselves. They became leading suppliers of generators and other equipment to the new utilities, and they also operated or invested in utilities themselves. Most important of all, they built vast new businesses supplying electric appliances to consumers - businesses that only became possible after the arrival of large scale electric utilities."
8- "When applications have no physical form, when they can be delivered as digital services over a network, the constraints disappear. Computing is also much more modular than electricity generation. Not only can applications be provided by different utilities, but even the basic building blocks of computing - data storage, data processing, data transmission - can be broken up into different services supplied from different locations by different companies. Modularity reduces the likelihood that the new utilities will form service monopolies, and it gives us, as the users of utility computing, a virtually unlimited array of options."
9- "Not only will the Internet tend to divide people with different views, in other words, it will also tend to magnify the differences."
10- "All technological change is generational change. The full power and consequence of a new technology are unleashed only when those who have grown up with it become adults and begin to push their outdated parents to the margins. As the older generations die, they take with them their knowledge of what was lost when the new technology arrived, and only the sense of what was gained remains. It's in this way that progress covers its tracks, perpetually refreshing the illusion that where we are is where we were meant to be."
The second section discusses the economic and social issues associated with the Internet's potential in terms of becoming the dominant platform for commerce, technological innovation, and social interaction. It begins with a chapter describing the benefits provided to society by the programmable Internet or the cloud of networked computers, which Carr calls the "World Wide Computer" (Carr, 2008, p. 118) throughout the book. While this chapter is intensely positive in its outlook, that is not a feeling that is continued beyond this chapter.
The remainder of the section is comprised of four chapters, each alluding to a socially-negative result caused by the Internet. Chapter 7 details the overall reduction in the necessary global workforce as computers and networked capabilities multiply a single worker's efforts and the corresponding enlargement of the socioeconomic gap between upper and lower classes. Chapter 8 describes how Internet commodities divide society into increasingly isolated consumer groups, fueling increasing points of connection for people but largely along the lines of homogeneous thoughts and beliefs. Carr uses the example of a politically-motivated blog, which gathers primarily those who agree with the blogger's position and rally around criticism for those of the opposite political persuasion, who in turn have their own blogs and followers and vitriol.
Chapter 9 points out the vulnerabilities of an Internet still very much a target for vandalism, abuse, and terrorism. Chapter 10 describes the diminished privacy that accompanies a more networked world. It is within this chapter that Carr employs a particular journalistic tone while he merely describes the problem without making any public policy recommendations as solutions. The final chapter of the book concerns artificial intelligence and the singularity--the point at which human and computer consciousness become one entity. Within this discussion is an anthology of man's efforts to achieve artificial intelligence, though the implications of such a feat are not fully discussed or analyzed.
Just three years removed from being published, The Big Switch offers little in terms of new knowledge, a common downfall for books written about technology. Those in the Information Technology (IT) field are likely already making the switch from the client-server model to the web-based or utility-based model. Where Carr might offer forecasts or implications of such a transition, he often offers only questions. In fact, Carr more often than not presents only a winding discussion and rarely provides analysis, evaluation, or practical application. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to identify Carr's feelings toward the cloud-based model. For the first half of the book, the reader is led to think that just as electricity revolutionized the world for the better, so will moving the Internet to the cloud. However, the second half of the book is dystopian in nature and tone.
The Big Switch has several shortcomings. Carr's technological observations are superficial and tend to favor those companies--like Google--who already operate with a heavy reliance on the cloud-based functionality of the Internet. Cloud-based computing still has serious drawbacks, while application-streaming to local machines, and virtualization, are still viable contenders for future market share. Carr's comparison between electricity and the Internet as a utility is entertaining but does not hold up to scrutiny. As disruptions to the global power grid caused by natural disaster and its vulnerability to terrorism are better understood, the national power grid is frequently compensated for by companies building their own power plants or relying on alternative sources of power. Finally, the last chapter about artificial intelligence reflects a lack of well-rounded research and documentation. In general, the book seems to favor sources that support his argument, but the last chapter--seemingly disjointed from the rest of the book--lacks in-depth investigation and support.
Carr's narrative is clearly his strength, and through it one finds some solid observations. As other technology and innovation writers, Carr points out that continued adoption and innovation has forced a steep separation between upper and lower classes, threatening the existence of the middle class. Those with resources, access, and education will be able to take advantage of the cloud-based model for business and social interaction. Those without those capabilities will compete for low-income jobs increasingly threatened by globalization.
The Big Switch is an excellent introduction to the topic of cloud-computing, especially for the reader who is not a regular consumer of IT material. In particular, the analogy of the Internet working as a utility as does the power grid is insightful and helpful. At its core however, it is only that: an introduction. The book's disconnected tone, unanswered questions, and limited technological viewpoint reduce this book to that of a primer, best read before reading more comprehensive works on the subject.
Most recent customer reviews
Comparing IT to Chicago Edison is brilliant