Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Master Switch: What will become of the internet?

David Leonhardt has a nice review of Tim Wu's new book "The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires", which made me want to run out and buy it.  Here's the main graf: 
AT&T is the star of Wu’s book, an intellectually ambitious history of modern communications. The organizing principle — only rarely overdrawn — is what Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, calls “the cycle.” “History shows a typical progression of information technologies,” he writes, “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.” Eventually, entrepreneurs or regulators smash apart the closed system, and the cycle begins anew.

The story covers the history of phones, radio, television, movies and, finally, the Internet. All of these businesses are susceptible to the cycle because all depend on networks, whether they’re composed of cables in the ground or movie theaters around the country. Once a company starts building such a network or gaining control over one, it begins slouching toward monopoly. If the government is not already deeply involved in the business by then (and it usually is), it soon will be.
What, then, of the internet?   Well, the answer is that it's up to us, as consumers and interested parties to make sure that the features of the internet that we love, its openness, ease of access and its culture of linking and transparency, survive the changes in its structure that are sure to come by.

Wu recently got into a tiff with other theorists over the meaning of the word "monopoly."  To know more, click here, here and here (and there are plenty of other links on the pages themselves).

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