- 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: 119 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #926,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google Edition Unstated Edition
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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
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In Part Two, he launches into his attack of the "techno-utopianism" that sometimes accompanies discussions about the implications of the Information Age and life in the cloud. "[O]ptimism is a natural response to the arrival of a powerful and mysterious new technology," but, Carr warns, "it can blind us to more troubling portents." And "there is reason to believe that our cybernetic meadow may be something less than a new Eden."
It is here that Carr's critique becomes familiar to those of us who follow the modern Internet policy debates. Carr is essentially joining the ranks of other Net skeptics like Andrew Keen, Lee Siegel, and others. This line of social criticism, or neo-Ludditism, can be traced back to the late Neil Postman, author of the 1992 anti-technology manifesto, "Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology."
Ultimately, however, I found Carr's case unconvincing. When it comes to the true impact of the Internet on our economy and culture, the truth is somewhere in between the two extremes staked out by Net optimists and pessimists. "Pragmatic optimism" might be the better approach: One can appreciate how much better off the Internet has made society while also recognizing that it has created new challenges that we need to think through.
Finally, I believe Carr makes a similar mistake when he argues that computers and the Internet are really more "technologies of control" than "technologies of emancipation." Carr adopts the same pessimistic tone set forth by Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu in their book "Who Controls the Internet," arguing that governments can and will bend digital communications tool and networks to serve their own ends. While I agree that computers and the Net give the big bad statist bureaucrats new tools of control, I persist in my belief that these digital tools offer the masses more methods of evading and minimizing the power of government over their lives and liberties. I think it is important to put things in some historical context. In the past, governments could completely control the media and disseminate incessant propaganda. It is far more difficult for them to get away with that today, and citizens have many tools and outlets at their disposal to respond. Digital technologies really are technologies of emancipation, but we can't expect them to break the backs of the statist thugs overnight. [My complete review of Carr's book can be found on the Technology Liberation Front.]
Will VP IT and departments disappear as electricity did? Mr Carr opinion's is clearly yes, but he expand on the subject for over 250 pages repeating the same message on and on and on with numerous example, from people that invented electricity to the ones that lead the IT revolution, businesses and newspaper quotes of the two eras. Most of the argument here is pretty much the same as the other book : Does IT matter (which was very good and revolutionary at the time - 2004) and frankly, if you've read it, you can skip on this one.
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."
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Comparing IT to Chicago Edison is brilliant