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The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires
 
 

The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires [Kindle Edition]

Tim Wu
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Review

`Magisterial... Wu is a wonk, a Silicon Valley princeling and a professor at Columbia University. He will, in short, be heard and rightly so... If new media laws are to be made, this book will be a key document.' --Sunday Times

'Wu is the rare writer capable of exhuming history and also interpreting current affairs. In this profound and important book, he excels at both.' --New Scientist

Review

'The Master Switch is brilliant... a must read for those who want to know more about the future of the Internet' Josh Silverman, CEO, Skype 'Magisterial - Wu is a wonk, a Silicon Valley princeling and a professor at Columbia University. He will, in short, be heard and rightly so. The future of the media, specifically the internet, lies at the heart of our liberal democratic destinies. A battle is now being fought between those who aspire to maintain net freedom and those who call for regulation or seek commercial control. Wu's sharp analysis and eye for a good story will impress any thoughtful legislator. If new media laws are to be made, this book will be a key document.' Bryan Appleyard in the Sunday Times

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who will run the Internet and how? 26 Dec 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you believe that understanding the past is a valuable guide to the future and if you are interested in the future of the media then this book is a "must read." The author, Tim Wu, is a professor at Columbia University and a veteran of Silicon Valley. He looks back at the history of the telephone, radio and television industries in the USA with a lawyer's eye and analyses the way that private enterprise has built powerful monopolies, at times with the assistance of a government, which, in theory at least, was keen to break up such structures.

Wu is the inventor of the term "net neutrality" and the analysis he uses the past to illustrate the possible challenges to the open nature of the Internet in the future. He poses the question is his title "Who will control the Master Switch of the Internet." He explains his notion of "the Cycle" in which information industries begin as the obsession of a lone inventor, are taken up by keen hobbyists and start out as open to all before becoming consolidated. He takes his analogy through telephone, cinema and radio.

He then argues that media end up being controlled by empire builders and closed to innovation. He paints fascinating pictures of the people behind the structures. Theodore Vail who created AT&T, David Sarnoff who built RCA and Adolph Zukor Paramount pictures. But just as interesting are the poignant stories of the inventors and would-be entrepreneurs who were pushed aside. We meet the pioneers of the failed mechanical television, the farmers who started local telephone and cable TV operations, the frustrated inventor of FM radio and more.

It is a very American book - Rupert Murdoch and New Corp get just a few lines and the BBC enjoys only a couple of brief walk-on parts.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading 11 April 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
If you have even a passing interest in the internet or communications technology in general, this book will provide a fascinating read for you.
The book has a grand theory about the cycle of communications technology, but the mainstay of the work is a revetting history of the subject.
If you have read and enjoyed any of Bill Bryson's work on science and technology then this book will give you more of the same.
It is packed full of the eccentric characters which populate Bryson's work, from visionaries to profiteers, despots to anarchists, all drawn with the same eye for detail and great story telling (although admittedly this book is not intended to be as humorous as Bryson's work).
Even if you are uninterested in the grand theory which this book sets out, then the history of the subject matter makes it a hugely enjoyable and a worthwhile read.
But this book goes beyond a simple history, it introduces a fascinating theory about the cycle of communications technology.
Timothy Wu focuses on disruptive technologies and how throughout modern history, such technologies have either been suppressed or subsumed (eaten up - the Kronos effect) by the owners of existing technology.
From telephone empires to movie studios, the radio network and cable TV this cycle is repeated again and again, and often the vested interests in the old technologies go to quite shocking lengths to destroy, or in some case steal away, the ideas that pose a threat to them.
For example, did you know that Bell Labs invented an answerphone in the 1930s but kept the details secret because the management felt it would be a threat to their phone business? Did you know the inventor / discoverer of FM radio had his technology suppresses by the powerfully radio oligarchy?
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By Rolf Dobelli TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Innovation has been a serial killer in the information industry since the advent of the telephone doomed the telegraph. Great advances in communications technology herald the start of new industries, but the corporate history of such breakthroughs shows a cycle of fragmentation followed by concentration, followed by another breakthrough and another splintered set of small companies chasing that innovation's promise. The Internet may defy this cycle. Whether control of the web will consolidate or remain diffuse remains to be seen. However, historic patterns suggest that today's major Internet companies may become part of larger media empires, thus centralizing control of online content. Columbia University professor Tim Wu offers a rich saga tracing the evolution of telecommunications industries, technology and regulations, and explains what these patterns portend. He says policy makers must limit corporate control of the web because open online information now is essential to society. getAbstract recommends Wu's book to readers interested in the future of the information industry and its centerpiece, the Internet.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
If you're concerned about net neutrality you should read this book. If you don't know what net neutrality is you should read this book.

The lessons of the past that Wu describes are fascinating. The effect he describes of companies who seek to set up their own "walled gardens" of content is worrying.

My only minor criticism is how America centric the book is. There are some references to developments in other parts of the world, but these are limited to giving some context.
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Popular Highlights

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&quote;
Kronos Effect: the efforts undertaken by a dominant company to consume its potential successors in their infancy. &quote;
Highlighted by 20 Kindle users
&quote;
History shows a typical progression of information technologies: from somebody’s hobby to somebody’s industry; from jury-rigged contraption to slick production marvel; from a freely accessible channel to one strictly controlled by a single corporation or cartel—from open to closed system. &quote;
Highlighted by 20 Kindle users
&quote;
It is an underacknowledged truism that, just as you are what you eat, how and what you think depends on what information you are exposed to. How do you hear the voice of political leaders? Whose pain do you feel? And where do your aspirations, your dreams of good living, come from? All of these are products of the information environment. &quote;
Highlighted by 18 Kindle users

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