Sunday, June 20, 2021
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The Master Switch

by Tim Wu

“Smartphones are turning into robots…”
This is a wonderful book if you are interested in the history of information technology, and it includes a well-articulated history of the internet—the origin of its protocols, the growth of the world wide web and where we may be headed. Author Tim Wu is a professor at Columbia University who has written for major publications like The New Yorker, Time, Forbes, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

His account explores the impact of the tele- graph in the 1800s and moves on to portray how radio, the telephone, cinema and the cable televi- sion industry changed our communications world. And finally, he delves into the complex intertwined evolution of the internet and per- sonal computer. He shows how the desktop interface on our personal computers was shaped by the need to efficiently browse the web in a newly interconnected world.

A key theme is how the new communica- tions technologies emerged as “disruptive innovations” that obsoleted the estab- lished media technology empires to become new unstoppable standards. He recounts many innovation success sto- ries and also explains how the sheer pace of technological progress changed things so quickly people and businesses were often caught off guard. As we all remember, Time Warner’s acquisition of AOL was a dead end. At the time of the merger so many people were shifting to browsing the web over broadband that demand for the AOL dial-up service rapidly shrank to regions outside major metropolitan areas. There was no workable synergy and eventually they parted ways.

Where are we going from here? Wu notes that smartphones are turning into robots. He takes a close look at Apple, Google and a resurgent AT&T, from their origins to their present standing, and ponders the unpredictability of the future in this new and funda- mentally different world. Is it possible that an emerging corporate leviathan will someday control the internet and possess the “master switch” that could control all access to the web? We give this provocative book two thumbs up.
—Tom Atwood


Publisher: Knopf,
Paperback $9.71; Kindle $11.99

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-0307269935