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The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of…

The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (Borzoi Books) (original 2010; edition 2010)

by Tim Wu (Author)

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5961424,851 (4.13)3
Title:The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (Borzoi Books)
Authors:Tim Wu (Author)
Info:Knopf (2010), Edition: 1, 384 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu (2010)

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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
Tim Wu does a good job of putting some of our current information age issues in context via this interesting look at the history of communications tech in the US. If there's a weak spot, it's in his recounting of the past ten years of this history -- a period which is a bit too complex and too in-progress to be neatly summarized in a few dozen pages. That aside, he makes a very strong argument for things like net neutrality and the history as he presents it does a solid job of hammering home why he holds the opinions he does. Also: It's easy to forgot that some of the companies we deal with daily today (AT&T, Verizon, for example) have long, long histories and this book does a good job of presenting some of the stuff these guys have been up to lately and putting it in this larger historical context.

Good read! ( )
  chasing | Jan 18, 2016 |
3.5 stars, a wonderful history of telecommunications empires. I'm not sure I agree with the conclusions Wu draws, but that is probably my technological idealism overpowering reason. ( )
1 vote sdmouton | May 19, 2015 |
Goes through the modern "information" businesses in the US - telephone, radio, television and film, and internet. A recurrent theme is how upstarts become (power-abusing) empires. The communication network determines who gets heard. Bell vs Gray controversy over the invention of the telephone. The Bell company exploiting its monopoly and sabotaging competitors. Broadcasting and sports. Modern mass media is sometimes accused of weakening local communities, but Wu claims that at least radio had the opposite effect. Tinkering and voluntary sharing important in the early days of radio, but less and less, like internet and computers today. Hollywood censorship code possible to implement because of centralization of power. A second recurrent theme is "the utopia of openness vs the perfection of the closed system." Will today's information giants be different from before? Do not bet on it. ( )
  ohernaes | Apr 15, 2015 |
This was was a surprise. The author was patient and took his time building a case for his argument, so the firs 3/4 of the book is a history of telecommunications in the 19th and 20th centuries. Wu shows that the recent history of the Internet, in real and important ways, mirrors the development of telephone, radio, television, film, cable television before.

Wu finds a pattern: innovation leads to disruption, which is then consolidated by industry until the next innovation comes.

Currently, we are in a phase of innovation, but Wu challenges the easy optimism that suggests the powers of consolidation have been defeated forever. Net neutrality and the consolidation of media into single companies poses a threat to openness and innovation.

Highly recommended. ( )
  nnschiller | Sep 18, 2014 |
On my list to reread -- Read this in the form of a somewhat scrambled audio book, due to the bother of working around DRM on an ebook I bought. This provided a delightful frisson as I read the book's accounts of other communication medias being taken over and locked down by corporations.

Anyway, I wish I could get everyone involved with say, Debian or Linux or general online free culture to read this. While it can be a bit of a slog in places, it provides a worldview that makes certain corporate maneuverings and ongoing shifts going on right now look very transparent. (Hello Google, Apple, Amazon, etc.) It shows how people trying to do what we're trying to do have failed, and failed, and failed yet again. This is valuable.

I was not fully convinced by its argument that the internet (and, though it doesn't mention it specifically, free software) is no different than radio, tv, telephone, movies, cable. But, as it points out, the wild-eyed visionary ones always think they have something new and world-changing.

Wu's concluding proposal to prevent the cycle he identifies, was also sadly, not to me very convincing. At least, its prospects look unlikely in the US. ( )
  joeyreads | Apr 2, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
"let’s cut to the chase—the argument about the future of the Internet. I wasn’t sure whether I agreed or disagreed until I realized Wu is making two different claims, a weak one and a strong one, and does not separate them clearly."

"In summary, Wu deserves major kudos both for the historical treatment and for some very astute insights about the Internet. For example, in the last 2-3 years, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter have all made dramatic moves toward centralization, control and closed platforms. Wu seems to have foreseen this general trend more clearly than most techies did.[1] The book does have drawbacks, and I don’t agree that the Internet will go the way of past monopolies without intervention. It should be very interesting to see what moves Wu will make now that he will be advising the FTC."
added by jodi | edit33bits.org, Arvind Narayanan (Mar 23, 2011)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307269930, Hardcover)

In this age of an open Internet, it is easy to forget that every American information industry, beginning with the telephone, has eventually been taken captive by some ruthless monopoly or cartel. With all our media now traveling a single network, an unprecedented potential is building for centralized control over what Americans see and hear. Could history repeat itself with the next industrial consolidation? Could the Internet—the entire flow of American information—come to be ruled by one corporate leviathan in possession of “the master switch”? That is the big question of Tim Wu’s pathbreaking book.

As Wu’s sweeping history shows, each of the new media of the twentieth century—radio, telephone, television, and film—was born free and open. Each invited unrestricted use and enterprising experiment until some would-be mogul battled his way to total domination. Here are stories of an uncommon will to power, the power over information: Adolph Zukor, who took a technology once used as commonly as YouTube is today and made it the exclusive prerogative of a kingdom called Hollywood . . . NBC’s founder, David Sarnoff, who, to save his broadcast empire from disruptive visionaries, bullied one inventor (of electronic television) into alcoholic despair and another (this one of FM radio, and his boyhood friend) into suicide . . . And foremost, Theodore Vail, founder of the Bell System, the greatest information empire of all time, and a capitalist whose faith in Soviet-style central planning set the course of every information industry thereafter.

Explaining how invention begets industry and industry begets empire—a progress often blessed by government, typically with stifling consequences for free expression and technical innovation alike—Wu identifies a time-honored pattern in the maneuvers of today’s great information powers: Apple, Google, and an eerily resurgent AT&T. A battle royal looms for the Internet’s future, and with almost every aspect of our lives now dependent on that network, this is one war we dare not tune out.

Part industrial exposé, part meditation on what freedom requires in the information age, The Master Switch is a stirring illumination of a drama that has played out over decades in the shadows of our national life and now culminates with terrifying implications for our future.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:00 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A history of the industrial wars behind the rise and fall of the 20th century's leading information empires traces how such giants as Hollywood, the broadcast networks and AT&T introduced major new mediums that were eventually centralized in ways that profoundly shaped America's communications practices.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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