Tim Wu’s second book The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires is wonderful examination how American information empires were established and stifled innovation at the same time. This is my second book by Wu following his brilliant Who Controls the Internet.
Wu identifies long business cycles surrounding the birth of information systems. While they begin open over time they were consolidated and driven by the market to become closed.
We displays how they become open again following amazing innovations force a business change in order to survive in the new marketplace.
There is an amazing look at how countries and cultures also view information empires differently. The case for Wu is the capitalist, independent market approach to radio vs the UK’s BBC dominated by the royal family.
The Master Switch reveals how four key markets actually hold government infrastructure: telecommunications, banking, energy and transportation. These four and their capitalist owners for generations established control over any citizen’s attempt at challenging their monopolies. The lesson Wu establishes is corporate control by closed technologies. Yet one cannot help but understand they magically protected the country from the devastating affects of revolution leading up to and more importantly the horrific aftermath of World War I that forever removed Paris as the hub for film entertainment.
Many would be wise to read this book simply for the cycle Wu describes regarding the internet. The US government’s role guiding AT&T from it’s Ma Bell birth to the breakup is amazing reading. I found the way the Nixon Administration actually set the foundation for the breakup of AT&T under Clay Whitehead.
The Master Switch brings the story of Vint Cert‘s invention of TCP/IP into the exact timeframe of the AT&T breakup. Its just amazing to see these developments as Nixon was fighting Watergate and multiple attacks against the same media companies Nixon was fighting.
However I found Wu’s view of Apple a bit too long in the tooth. Yes Wozniak was always the brains behind the company and the Apple II was the machine that catapulted Apple Computer forward I disagree that Jobs was locked into a closed architecture as his NeXT cube held NuBus card technology. It was the same technology under development that Apple also chose to embed in the slotted Macintosh II line of desktop computers. This is all water under the bridge.
The closed architecture of the iPhone, iPad and iOS provide Apple with an ability to control devices (and developers) against rampant malware found today all over Android OS devices authored by Google. The Apple II hobbyist view would never provide Steve the ability to land Apple inside corporate America against the IBM PC. One of Steve’s famous photos outside a IBM office flipping off the IBM logo demonstrated Steve wanted to take Apple across corporate offices. The Apple II could be that enterprise solution.
While released in 2011 Wu could not have predicted the somewhat failed release of Google Glass and related-phone products have now moved the company away from their internet search business. While the new Alphabet is expanding upon Google, it will be interested to see how closed Google business units evolve as they acquire more technology markets including Nest.