The Master Switch

I really enjoyed this book from Tim Wu. It worked especially well as a follow-up to The Idea Factory in that Wu presents a much darker side to Bell Telephone’s unprecedented monopoly. Wu recognizes that Bell was a source for an enormous amount of innovation, but is appropriately critical of the many instances where innovation was squelched in the interest of maintaining the Bell monopoly.

The Bell example is just one of several prominent “information empires,” industries built around products and services the control the creation and distribution of information. Movies, radio, and television are each discussed with strong examples showing how these businesses and technologies fit into Wu’s big idea: The Cycle. Wu explains that every technology built to distribute information goes through a cycle of great openness at the early stages that reverts to massive consolidation as the technology matures.

Wu’s discussion of the Internet and Net Neutrality is both timely and prescient. At the moment, the Internet appears to be at an inflection point in The Cycle: ahead lies more consolidation and control by the major ISPs like Comcast. If the history of information empires plays out again as it has in the past, the Internet of the next 20 years will be far different from what we know today.

Highly recommend.