Book Review - The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu
If the past is an indicator of how the future might play out, the openness and freedom of the Internet could well be at risk. Tim Wu does an excellent job in mapping the move from open to closed information technologies in his book The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. We are used to a few major players controlling things like radio and television, but each of those started in a far more open way that you might imagine.
Part 1 - The Rise: The Disruptive Founder; Mr. Vail is a Big Man; The Time Is Not Ripe for Feature Films; Centralize All Radio Activities; The Paramount Ideal
Part 2 - Beneath the All-Seeing Eye: The Foreign Attachment; The Legion of Decency; FM Radio; We Now Add Sight to Sound
Part 3 - The Rebel, the Challengers, and the Fall: The Right Kind of Breakup; The Radicalism of the Internet Revolution; Nixon's Cable; Broken Bell; Esperanto for Machines
Part 4 - Reborn Without a Soul: Turner Does Television; Mass Production of the Spirit; The Return of AT&T
Part 5 - The Internet Against Everyone: A Surprising Wreck; Father and Son; The Separations Principle
Acknowledgments; Notes; Index
In the early days of radio, television, and telephony, there were few restrictions on what could and couldn't be done, as well as who could participate. Granted, it may be clunky, but you could start your own radio station or build your own telephone network. Your ability to use the technology as you saw fit was unrestricted, and there was no telling how things might advance with everyone trying to innovate. But in all those cases, a few large companies (or even a single person with a company like AT&T) started to monopolize the landscape and prevent uncontrolled access and experimentation. In the case of AT&T, they could make the case that their monopoly was beneficial because they could cover the entire country and offer a standard level of service. But for that promise, everyone else was locked out and prevented from innovating new solutions or reducing the cost of service. The group holding power, the so-called "Master Switch", could and did do everything they could to block out everyone else, using both ethical and unethical methods to maintain their monopoly. Thus, a single entity held absolute sway over how society communicated and accessed each other.
Wu uses these history lessons to bring us to the current technology that dominates our lives... the Internet. We're all used to a high degree of freedom and access when it comes to our internet usage, and it's hard to imagine that any single group could control that. But the battle lines are starting to form... carriers are looking to filter and charge extra for certain types of traffic under the guise of having people pay for different types of content. The government looks to be able to tap into any and all communications, whether encrypted or not. Vendor and content providers are looking to provide "walled gardens" where they control all aspects of a user's content and experience. Will these efforts turn the Internet into yet another victim of the cycle, with a few entities holding the master switch? Or is the Internet radically different, and not at risk for these issues? The next few years and the decisions made during that time will determine the outcome.
Wu does an excellent job in his research, and his ability to weave the information into an interesting story makes The Master Switch a joy to read. He opened my eyes to a side of technology that I never knew about, and I'll never think of television, radio, telephones, or movie studios in quite the same way again. This is an interesting read on many levels, but it's very important if you're concerned about today's fight over net neutrality. You might well see the future of the Internet in these pages depending on how current battles play out.
Obtained From: Amazon Vine Review Program