The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, by Tim Wu.
Knopf, 2010. ISBN-10: 0307269930. ISBN-13: 9780307269935
From Publishers Weekly
According to Columbia professor and policy advocate Wu (Who Controls the Internet), the great information empires of the 20th century have followed a clear and distinctive pattern: after the chaos that follows a major technological innovation, a corporate power intervenes and centralizes control of the new medium–the master switch. Wu chronicles the turning points of the century’ s information landscape: those decisive moments when a medium opens or closes, from the development of radio to the Internet revolution, where centralizing control could have devastating consequences. To Wu, subjecting the information economy to the traditional methods of dealing with concentrations of industrial power is an unacceptable control of our most essential resource. He advocates not a regulatory approach but rather a constitutional approach that would enforce distance between the major functions in the information economy–those who develop information, those who own the network infrastructure on which it travels, and those who control the venues of access–and keep corporate and governmental power in check. By fighting vertical integration, a Separations Principle would remove the temptations and vulnerabilities to which such entities are prone. Wu’ s engaging narrative and remarkable historical detail make this a compelling and galvanizing cry for sanity–and necessary deregulation–in the information age.
“An explosive history that makes it clear how the information business became what it is today. Important reading.”
—Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More and Free: How Today’s Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing; editor of Wired Magazine
“Wu’s book is both a masterful media history and an outline for the future of the digital age. The Master Switch brilliantly describes the never-ending tension between open and closed media, as it has effected everything from the printing press to the web, and details ways society might be able to prevent the disastrous closing down of digital freedoms currently threatening the open internet.”
—Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organization and Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age
“Every now and then a book changes the way we understand the world. The Master Switch is such an achievement; it is a rigorous, imaginative and enthralling history of the Twentieth Century struggle among utopian innovators, profit-maximizing monopolists, and their often-hapless regulators. Wu has convincingly reinterpreted our media past, and by doing so, he has illuminated the risks to open media and Internet-enabled innovation that confront us in the present.”
—Steve Coll, President, New American Foundation and Pulitzer Prize winning author of Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
—Lawrence Lessig, Director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics and Professor of Law, Harvard University
“Ranging from the early days of Theodore Vail’s AT&T to the current battle between Google and Apple, Tim Wu’s work is a must read for those who want to know about the future of the Internet. The Master Switch is brilliant, with a distinctive voice that comes through on every page.”
—Josh Silverman, CEO, Skype
“A free and open Internet is not a given. Indeed, corporate interests are working feverishly to seize control of it. Drawing on history, The Master Switch shows how this could easily happen and why we are at risk of losing the freedom we now take for granted. A must-read for all Americans who want to remain the ones deciding what they can read, watch, and listen to.”
A secret history of the industrial wars behind the rise and fall of the twentieth century’s great information empires—Hollywood, the broadcast networks, and AT&T—asking one big question: Could history repeat itself, with one giant entity taking control of American information?
Most consider the Internet Age to be a moment of unprecedented freedom in communications and culture. But as Tim Wu shows, each major new medium, from telephone to cable, arrived on a similar wave of idealistic optimism only to become, eventually, the object of industrial consolidation profoundly affecting how Americans communicate. Every once free and open technology was in time centralized and closed, a huge corporate power taking control of the “master switch.” Today, as a similar struggle looms over the Internet, increasingly the pipeline of all other media, the stakes have never been higher. To be decided: who gets heard, and what kind of country we live in.
Part industrial exposé, part meditation on the nature of freedom of expression, part battle cry to save the Internet’s best features, The Master Switch brings to light a crucial drama—rife with indelible characters and stories—heretofore played out over decades in the shadows of our national life.