- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (November 29, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307390993
- ISBN-13: 978-0307390998
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (152 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires Reprint Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. According to Columbia professor and policy advocate Wu (Who Controls the Internet), the great information empires of the 20th century have followed a clear and distinctive pattern: after the chaos that follows a major technological innovation, a corporate power intervenes and centralizes control of the new medium--the master switch. Wu chronicles the turning points of the century' s information landscape: those decisive moments when a medium opens or closes, from the development of radio to the Internet revolution, where centralizing control could have devastating consequences. To Wu, subjecting the information economy to the traditional methods of dealing with concentrations of industrial power is an unacceptable control of our most essential resource. He advocates not a regulatory approach but rather a constitutional approach that would enforce distance between the major functions in the information economy--those who develop information, those who own the network infrastructure on which it travels, and those who control the venues of access--and keep corporate and governmental power in check. By fighting vertical integration, a Separations Principle would remove the temptations and vulnerabilities to which such entities are prone. Wu' s engaging narrative and remarkable historical detail make this a compelling and galvanizing cry for sanity--and necessary deregulation--in the information age.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*Starred Review* A veteran of Silicon Valley and professor at Columbia University, Wu is an author and policy advocate best known for coining the term net neutrality. Although the Internet has created a world of openness and access unprecedented in human history, Wu is quick to point out that the early phases of telephony, film, and radio offered similar opportunities for the hobbyist, inventor, and creative individual, only to be centralized and controlled by corporate interests, monopolized, broken into smaller entities, and then reconsolidated. Wu calls this the Cycle, and nowhere is it more exemplary than in the telecommunications industry. The question Wu raises is whether the Internet is different, or whether we are merely in the early open phase of a technology that is to be usurped and controlled by profiteering interests. Central in the power struggle is the difference between the way Apple Computer and Google treat content, with Apple attempting to control the user experience with slick products while Google endeavors to democratize content, giving the user choice and openness. This is an essential look at the directions that personal computing could be headed depending on which policies and worldviews come to dominate control over the Internet. --David Siegfried --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
This book tells the story of the consolidation of new inventions that impact our world in the hands of a few people who have their finger on a master switch of sorts.
Master Switch argues that the internet age is not so different from the age of the telegraph (they were working on a way to get "texting" machines into every home before radio hit!) or radio, or Hollywood, or Television, or cable TV.
The story is the same. A new disruptive technology comes along, and people with big lawyers and big world changing monopolist visions usurp it from small operators and inventors. Patent stealing, inventor scamming, government policy manipulation, and big law are used as levers to hoist new technology onto monopolist mounds of media conglomeration.
As a result we get stifling, repression of cool new inventions. Television, invented in 1929, doesn't see the light of day until 1939 and is totally usurped by the radio kingpins by 1949. AT&T invents the magnetic drive, answering machine, optical cable (breakthroughs we associate with the past 30 years) in 1930! But because these would cannibalize their core business, we had to wait until the breakup of MaBell in the 70's and 80's to see hard drives, high-speed internet, and answering machines...50 years after they were invented. It all just sat in Bell Labs R&D. They were a monopoly. And that is the story of the book. It squeezed-to-death what vestiges of naivete I had for the internet age freedoms we apparently enjoy today. I now understand Net neutrality. and the "cycle" of consolidation that is in play right now.
I now understand AT&T's evil plans against Google. And Googles evil plans against AT&T.
One owns the wires and can flip the master switch in collusion with the govn't. One owns the mind share of the citizenry and can manipulate perception with it's master switch much the way TV has influence culture before cable. AT&T owns the wires of the internet, Google owns our intentions via search. Will they decentralize? Will they become bigger monopolies?
Great book to read to get your head around whether or not the internet will go the way of all information industries before it.
Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:
1- "In fact, the place we find ourselves now is a place we have been before, albeit in different guise. And so understanding how the fate of the technologies of the twentieth century developed is important in making the twenty-first century better."
2- "Schumpeter's cycle of industrial life and death is an inspiration for this book. His thesis is that in the natural course of things, the new only rarely supplements the old; it usually destroys it. The old, however, doesn't, as it were, simply give up but rather tries to forestall death or co-opt its usurper--a la Kronos--with important implications."
3- "We have seen how important outsiders are to industrial innovation: they alone have the will or interest to challenge the dominant industry. And we have seen the power of considerations beyond wealth or security--factors outside the motivations of the ideal rational economic actor--in inspiring action to transform an industry."
4- "Here, then, we come to the second weakness that afflicts centralized systems of innovation: the necessity, by definition, of placing all control in a few hands. This is not to say that doing so holds no benefit. To be sure, there is less "waste": instead of ten companies competing to develop a better telephone--reinventing the wheel, as it were, every time--society's resources can be synchronized in their pursuit of the common goal. There is no duplication of research, with many laboratories chasing the same invention. Yet if all resources for solving any problem are directed by a single, centralized intelligence. that mastermind has to be right in predicting the future if innovation is to proceed effectively. And that's the problem: monopoly presumes a prescience that humans are seldom capable of. "
5- "For the combined forces of a dominant industry and the federal government can arrest the Cycle's otherwise inexorable progress, intimating for the prevailing order something like Kronos's fantasy of perpetual rule."
6- "Whether sanctioned by the state or not, monopolies represent a special kind of industrial concentration, with special consequences flowing from their dissolution. Often the useful results are delayed and unpredictable, while the negative outcomes are immediate and obvious."
7- "But what prevented monopoly and all centralized systems from realizing these efficiencies, in Hayek's view, was a fundamental failure to appreciate human limitations. With perfect information, a central planner could effect the best of all possible arrangements, but no such planner could ever hope to have all the relevant facts of local, regional, and national conditions to arrive at an adequately informed, or right, decision."
8- "As an object lesson in the way information networks can develop, it gives us occasion to consider what we truly want from our news and entertainment, as opposed to what sort of content we might be prepared to sustain, however passively, with our fleeting attention. For cable offered choices really only in the commercial range--(-enough, however, to suggest what a truly open medium could deliver to the nation, for better and for worse."
9- "With its hefty capitalization, it offers the information industries financial stability, and potentially a great freedom to explore risky projects. Yet despite that promise, the conglomerate can as easily become a hidebound, stifling master, obsessed with maximizing the revenue potential and flow of its intellectual property. At its worst, such an organization can carry the logic of mass cultural production to any extreme of banality as long as it seems financially feasible."
10- "For the information industries that now account for an ever increasing share of American and world GDP, the coming decade will be given over to a mighty effort to seize territory, to bolt the competition from its habitat. But this is not a case of one pack of wolves chasing another out of a prime valley. While it may sound fanciful, the contest in question is more like one of polar bears batting lions for domination of the world. Each animal, insuperably dominant in its natural element--the polar bear on ice and snow, the lion on the open plains--will undertake a land grab where it has no natural business being. The only practicable strategy will be a campaign of climate change, the polar bears seeking to cover as much of the world with snow as they can, while the lion tries to coax a savannah from the edges of a tundra. Sounds absurd, but for these mighty predators, it's simply the law of nature."
11- "The democratization of technological power has made the shape of the future hard to know, even for the best informed. The individual holds more power than at any time in the past century, and literally in the palm of his hand. Whether or not he can hold on to it is another matter."
12- "The American political system is designed to prevent abuses of pubic power. But where it has proved less vigilant is in those areas where the political meets the economic realm, where private economic power comes to bear on public life...We like to believe that our safeguards against concentrated political power will ultimately protect us from the consequences of accumulated economic power. But this hasn't always been so."
13- "For history shows that in seeking to prevent the exercise of abusive power in the information industries, government is among those actors whose power must be restrained. Government may function as a check on abusive power, but government itself is a power that must be checked. What I propose is not a regulatory approach but rather a constitutional approach to the information economy. By that I mean a regime whose goal is to constrain and divide all power that derives from the control of information."
14- "Let us. then, not fail to protect ourselves from the will of those who might seek domination of those resources we cannot do without. If we do not take this moment to secure our sovereignty over the choices that our information age has allowed us to enjoy, we cannot reasonably blame its loss on those who are free to enrich themselves by taking it from us in a manner history has foretold."
The only thing I was disappointed by was the relatively brief exploration of modern issues, including net neutrality. I cannot call this a criticism as the book is not marketed as a primer for net neutrality, but I was hoping for a little more content relating to the recent history of the Internet and the important issues to be solved for the future. Even though I tend to side with the author's position, I would agree that a more equal treatment of the other sides of this debate would have strengthened the argument. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent reading through "The Master Switch" and would enthusiastically encourage everyone to give it a look.