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The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google [Hardcover]

Nicholas Carr
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

8 Jan 2008
In this eye-opening look at the new computer revolution and its consequences, Nicholas Carr explains why computing is changing and what this means for all of us.A hundred years ago, companies stopped producing their own power and plugged into the newly built electric grid. The cheap power pumped out by electricity providers not only changed how businesses operated but also brought the modern world into existence. Today a similar revolution is under way as companies dismantle their private computer systems and tap into rich services delivered over the Internet. Computing is turning into a utility. The shift is remaking the computer industry, bringing competitors like Google to the fore and threatening traditional stalwarts like Microsoft. The effects will reach further as cheap computing changes society as profoundly as cheap electricity did. In this lucid and compelling book Carr weaves together history, economics and technology to explain the "big switch".

Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st Edition edition (8 Jan 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393062287
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393062281
  • Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 16.5 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 151,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Mr. Carr's provocations are destined to influence CEOs and the boards and investors that support them as companies grapple with the constant change of the digital age." The Wall Street Journal "...should be read by anyone interested in the shift from the world wide web and its implications for industry, work and our information environment." William H. Dutton The Times Higher Education Supplement "...a catalogue of Carr's best-aimed shots at the web economy's downsides..." Julian Dibbell, The Telegraph * "Carr is one of the more cogent writers on the economic and social implications of the changes sweeping through corporate datacentres." Financial Times" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

NICHOLAS CARR is the author of Does IT Matter? The former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review, he has written for The New York Times, the Financial Times, Wired and other publications.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and disturbing 17 July 2008
The Big Switch is a book about the future of computing but it begins in the past with the production of electricity. We are given a history of how technology changed the way in which humanity manipulates matter, and how this drove us to need to handle information in ever more sophisticated ways. This is an extremely interesting story and Carr does a good job of showing how these changes affected society.

This history is interesting in its own right but Carr's reasons for going into it are to shed light on our present. The analogy is made between the change in businesses in the past being responsible for generating their own power to outside companies doing it for them, and today's world, where we increasingly don't need to think about maintaining our own software and computing systems. Today we very rarely need to think about IT, often doing much of our computing online and never needing to maintain the software ourselves. More and more this is done by outside agencies, the most obvious of which is Google.

While history is a good way to analyse our present times, Carr understands that no historical analogy is perfect. The similarities between the revolution in providing power and the revolution in computing are very interesting but so are the differences. This is what Carr focuses on in the second half of his book. His thoughts on the way the Internet is changing the world both socially and economically, are well contrasted to the way electricity revolutionised our lives. He makes the point that in some ways new technology and change is for the better, while in others it is for the worse.

I found this second half to be very thought provoking and disturbing at times. We are often given to understand that the Internet is a force for freedom.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Uncritical, but maybe correct 20 Feb 2010
In this book Nick Carr takes the reader through history by exploring the similarities between electrical power generation and computing. Through an uncritical and historical metaphor it imposes his ideas of how the computing industry will change and improve exactly as the power generation did more than a century ago. Carr started this argument in a previous book "Does IT Matter" published in 2003, where he controversially asserts that, at business level IT is so widespread and advanced that companies cannot compete anymore with each other, as they all have the same IT capacity.
The Big Switch is a very well written and interesting book. It is divided into two main parts. In the first part, Carr gives an historical analysis on the development of the electric power generation, from the in house production to the construction of power stations and the provision of electricity as a service. After providing the reader with this background knowledge; in the second part, through another historical analysis, but this time of the IT industry, he shows how the IT is evolving in such a similar way as the power generation. Arriving to the conclusion that IT will be soon provided only as a service, just like electricity.
Carr bases his thesis on the fact that during the industrial revolution of the 20th century, most of the factories had in house power generation systems and it did matter if you had a bigger generator than your competitors. Production was highly affected by the capability of the factories to produce their own electric power. Therefore, having better and more powerful electrical generators would have given you an advantage against competitors.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting ideas poorly presented 23 Feb 2009
This book was recommended to me by a colleague.

There are some interesting and thought provoking ideas within. But, for me it's damaged by the unnecessary comparisons made with the 20th Century's emerging power generation industry.

I don't know anyone in business that isn't aware that as markets mature products and services become increasingly commoditised, or is unable to recognise the potential of computing as a service (let's face it you could time-share mainframes back in the 1970s).

Surely, the driving force behind IT has always been the power it offers for innovation? And you can be a whole lot more innovative with a $300 computer in your garage than an Ethernet connection and a subscription to AWS.

By the end, I felt that much of the time spent proselytising may have been better spent discussing some of the cloud's issues - clunky, browser-based user interfaces, JavaScript incompatibilities, the problem of IPR, the risk of service withdrawal, the lack of service ubiquity...

A good introduction to the Cloud, but lacking the criticism required to make it a seminal tome.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Switched On 22 Feb 2008
Nick Carr's publisher was kind enough to send me a copy of his new book, "The Big Switch: Rewiring the world, from Edison to Google". I have been reading the book on and off for the last few days. Overall, the The Big Switch is a very pleasant, thought provoking and easy read.

The book is essentially two books in one. In the "first" book, Carr discuss the move to "utility computing" (grid-based, aka cloud computing) and goes on to describe a number of historical analogies on how electricity utilities and grids were first introduced during the last century. The second "book" is made up of a series of essays on the social, moral and policy implications of our digital world. Though well researched, I found the first part rather boring.

With regards to utility computing, (Software virtualisation. Data Centre consolidation. IP connectivity. ITIL processes, hardware standardisation. Shared IT Services model). The idea sounds great and more and more enterprises are seriously starting to think about moving to this model for the future.

In the "second" book, (which I found very thought provoking) Carr, explores areas such as privacy, security and "market of one" opportunities and risks. He concludes that we are heading into a new era:

"In the years ahead, more and more of the information-processing tasks that we rely on, at home and at work, will be handled by big data centres located out on the Internet. The nature and economics of computing will change as dramatically as the nature and economics of mechanical power changed with the rise of electric utilities in the early years of the last century. The consequences for society - for the way we live, work, learn, communicate, entertain ourselves, and even think - promise to be equally profound.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
Strongly recommend reading this, its a real eye opener, great points on history and interesting facts! Well written and summarised.
Published 3 months ago by Z Abbas
4.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for those working in this field
And a serious should-read for everybody else. Its predictions have stood up well (the first edition was published just after the arrival of the Kindle and before the iPxxx... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting reading
Good choice for an entertaining literature although it is not a romance so prepare for some boring moments. In the end it is interesting to select some parts.
Published 11 months ago by Ana Andre
5.0 out of 5 stars The world wide computer
This book looks at the way in which the provision of computing is moving away from our desktops to more remote locations which are accessed via the internet. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Jeremy Walton
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and worth a read
Interesting book that demonstrates conclusively that business and personal systems must continue to move into cloud. Read more
Published on 3 Mar 2012 by David Hurst
2.0 out of 5 stars A round about way of saying nothing
This book could be written in one sentence. "It's not about what computer you have, it's about how it's connected. Read more
Published on 14 Jan 2012 by Redundant Tramp
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly interesting
Carr continues his argument about "IT doesn't matter", because soon there are enough free applications on the Internet that makes it simpler to use those than to develop computer... Read more
Published on 19 Aug 2010 by A reader
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting - but irritating
A dash it off quick piece of journalistic polemic - Carrs short book (about 200 pages of cheaply printed content) has plenty of interesting things to say about the development of... Read more
Published on 29 Mar 2010 by Lendrick
5.0 out of 5 stars deep technology for non-technicals
One of the amizing books i`ve ever read. What make it so special is that give the technological history chain in a smooth way. Read more
Published on 28 Oct 2009 by Mr. S. ALFARIS
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb
The big switch is a fascinating look at the possibilities and the dangers of the next computing revolution. Superbly written
- Hugh Dawson
Published on 23 Jun 2009 by Amazon Customer
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