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Telecosm: The World After Bandwidth Abundance Paperback – May 7, 2002
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And he said, "Let the computer age be over."
And so it was.
George Gilder, the tech-friendly author of the well-received chip treatise, The Meaning of the Microcosm, and publisher of the Gilder Technology Report, has brought forth Telecosm: How Infinite Bandwidth Will Revolutionize Our World, another work of technical prose that's sure to appeal to both techheads and nontechnical folks alike.
Telecosm predicts a revolutionary new era of unlimited bandwidth: it describes how the "age of the microchip"--dubbed the "microcosm"--is ending and leaving in its wake a new era--the "telecosm," or "the world enabled and defined by new communications technology."
Speaking like a prophet of the bandwidth deity, Brother Gilder lays down the telecosmic commandments--the Law of the Telecosm, Gilder's Law, the Black Box Law, and so on. He describes the gaggle of industry players--from cable and satellite to telephone and computer--who populate the telecosm arena.
Books about telecommunications rarely are quotable, but Telecosm at times is a brilliant example of magical and (believe it or not) mystical prose. Gilder's philo-techno perspective makes for interesting and thought-provoking musings: "Wrought of sand, oxygen, and aluminum, the three most common substances in the Earth's crust, the microprocessor distills ideas as complex as a street map of America onto a sliver of silicon the size of a thumbnail. This gift of the quantum is a miracle of compression." And, finally, he describes precisely what the telecosm will create among its congregation: "The gift of the telecosm is a miracle of expansion: grains of sand spun into crystalline fibers and woven into worldwide webs."
What happens when we become blessed with the miracle of infinite bandwidth? Gilder writes, "You can replace the seven-layer smart network with a much faster, dumber, unlayered one. Let all messages careen around on their own. Let the end-user machines take responsibility for them. Amid the oceans of abundant bandwidth, anyone who wants to drink just needs to invent the right kind of cup." And what of unlimited bandwidth? No mere contradiction in terms, unlimited bandwidth is what we strive for--"we" meaning those of us who suffer bravely through the contradictions of Moore's Law and Metcalfe's Law, as we increase our RAM and decrease our Net access time.
While it seems too simple to describe Telecosm as a telescopically written book of cosmic proportions, it is that and more. Gilder's political rants and raves for infinite bandwidth boldly foretell the age of the telecosm and its dramatic impact on all of us--of our metamorphosis from users who found ourselves bound by the limits of our networks to "bandwidth angels" who compute in the "Promethean light." --E. Brooke Gilbert --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Gilder, a highly respected and widely read technology analyst (Forbes, the Economist, the Wall Street Journal), predicts an impending "bandwidth blowout" that will reshape the way we do business and organize our lives. The author's The Meaning of Microcosm (1997) described a world dominated by the Microsoft- and Intel-based PC. In his latest work, a world enabled and dominated by new telecommunications technology will make human communication universal, instantaneous, unlimited in capacity, and free to all. Gilder explains the science and engineering trends of his predictions, who is fighting them, who will ride them to victory, and what it all means. He weaves together a number of rich and complex stories to back up his claims and provide readers with the necessary components toward understanding the pending telecosmic revolution. This book will be of interest to technologists, investors, and general-interest readers. Recommended for public and academic libraries.DJoe Accardi, Northeastern, Illinois Univ., Chicago
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Things in the world in general, not to mention in the business and technical spheres, have changed dramatically since "Telecosm" was published in the year 2000. Despite the facts that bandwidth might not be as ubiquitous as projected and bandwidth availability might not have had the magnitude of the effects projected in this book, it is still worth a read.
Well-research and logically-conveyed, "Telecosm" offers a unique historical viewpoint of a potential future.
In fact I was so caught up during the era that I think I made the transition from being an engineer to being a production line laborer in the manufacture of the Internet economy. So is Telecosm a product or even cause of the hype that has now deflated? It may seem so, but that's because no one saw the invisible hand (1) that really popped the inflated bubble.
If there was a bubble, I think I was in it or near it. From 1997 through 2000 I was at first a Network Architect and later the Manager of Network Architecture at America Online. From the day that I first arrived at AOL I was caught up in the explosive growth of building the network. And later even my own personal life was affected as I found that being an engineer changed status when our culture not only accepted technology but openly admired it. This revelation first occurred to me when one of my best friends from college toasted me at his wedding rehersal dinner. He was thanking my colleagues and I at AOL for the service that was the medium for meeting his soon to be wife. It was called the nerds revenge. But it seems closer to what Gilder described. What was once witchery became not only accepted, but admired.
I spoke at two Telecosm confences and had the priviledge of sharing the stage with Mr. Gilder at a Merryl-Lynch conference as well.
I not only share Mr. Gilder's views, but dare say that at least my own views were solidified in my discussions either in person or over email with both him and the many people of the Telecosm that I met directly or indirectly through him.
Although I completely agree with the vision of the Telecosm, I am probably the telecosmic pessimist. I am not the devils advocate, but just a pessimist. I believe in the same forces of change that he describes in Telecosm, but I suspect that instead of being used for the social good that the forces will be pushed to the worst extremes of capitalism. In hindsight this seems easy to explain the likes of Global Crossing and Enron.
I would go even further to say that some of the service providers that surive today continue these practices. In fact it is they more than any others that contributed to the expansion of the bubble beyond the obvious capital potential of the Internet and telecommunications. Entrepreneurs, engineers, marketers, investors, and people in every other occupation associated with the Internet made money from stock options of their Internet economy employers. The biggest difference between the engineers and other visionaries, and profiteers, can be determined by examining what they did with those profits. Profiteers held on and diversified. The engineers and visionaries believe (we still do) in the Telecosm. So we invested the profits back into new ventures. The rest is the modern history of Wall Street.
Technology doesn't have to be complicated. Our best technologies are made easy to use. That's what engineers strive to do. But across the Telecosm are overly complex technologies. Particularly wireless technologies. If one can criticize the flow of an IP packet across the Internet, then the progress of a telephone call on a wireless system is truly an act of complexity and waste. As things stand today the escapees from AT&T, Lucent, et. al have fled to start-ups where they are making optics and IP not only more complicated, but even worse. Added to their complete misunderstanding of the simplicity of optics and the Internet is their need to want to "control" every pack on the Internet as if it were a telephone call. The result could be a system 1000 times more complex than the PSTN even though it should be 1000 times cheaper.
The Telecosm is still here. The best is yet to come, but it is either a slow revolution or an evolution. Even though there are those of us who can stand the rate of change that it brings, we must battle those who resist. And that alone will make the difference between a revolution and an evolution.
1. Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations.
Unfortunately, I decided to invest in some of the companies he claims hold the most promise. Boy was I wrong! Anyone who bought JDS Uniphase, Nortel, or pretty much any other company Gilder praised in 2000 is hurting now.
Buy Telecosm for the technology. Go somewhere else for investment advice.
Expect to work through stuff like: "Beyond the copper cages of existing communications, the telecosm dissolves the topography of old limits and brings technology into a boundless, elastic new universe, fashioned from incandescent oceans of bits on the electromagnetic spectrum."
A perfectly predictable notion that bandwidth will revolutionize our world (what a surprise!) is fleshed out into 20 putative laws of the telecosm that provide provocative rules to live by. Some of Gilder's reasoning is tenuous, and many of his conclusions are obvious. For instance, the Law of Instantaneous Information builds on the fact that the speed of light is immutable and that our life spans are limited. Combining those facts, Gilder grapples to arrive at the terribly simple idea that companies should strive to save time for their customers. Uh huh.
The flow of the book can be as daunting as the prose. Essentially this is 4 books in 1 --
1. An investment guide, which really should be skipped for your own good. For instance, we were convinced over a span of dozen pages that JDS Uniphase would be the Intel of the networking world. The equity, at that time US$ 20 a share, now gets by at $3.
2. A look at the world that infinite bandwidth is creating, which you most likely already know much more about than to subject yourself to this verbiage.
3. A history of scientific discovery. Ironically, this is the only section with pockets of amusing anecdotal material, particularly a section on the development of science where he tells gossipy tales that show how entrepreneurs developed the technologies that are forming the telecosm.
4. A textbook at the end, with a glossary that you could lay end on end from Tokyo to Tanzania.
If you really must read this supposedly epic effort, this last section (the textbook section) is where you could consider starting off your equally monumental effort to read it. You'll find a handy compendium of the 20 laws and their underlying assumptions.
Otherwise you can pretty much pass this by, assured that you haven't really missed a lot that you haven't already read in the WSJ, Economist, Forbes, BW etc.