The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires [telecom]

The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires

by Tim Wu Reviewed by Robert Nersesian | Released: November 2, 2010 Publisher: Knopf (384 pages)

Would the ideas Tim Wu espouses in The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires have been published if we weren't still picking through the wreckage caused by the financial sector?

That catastrophe has ushered in a new movement of the righteous. Publishers nowadays are looking for both the wisdom of hindsight and the new warnings being trumpeted for any and all business sectors.

In that spirit, Wu, a law professor at Columbia University, has come up with solutions to problems that haven't actually occurred in our information economy. It may make his intent attractive to those who believe ubiquitous industries such as energy, finance, and information should be regulated, but it's also what makes his book so curious.

The bulk of The Master Switch looks at media industries and their dominant companies of the past 150 years: AT&T and the telephone (full disclosure: this reviewer worked for a number of years at AT&T); Paramount Pictures and the movies; and RCA with radio and television.

Wu discounts these commercializers' achievements-universal telephone service; a motion picture canon unique to American culture; and news and entertainment piped into every American household.

Instead, he focuses on the ravages of a market system where the strong winnow out the weak (he names it the "Kronos Effect" though most say "competition") and the push and pull between open and closed models is constant-what Wu calls the "Cycle." His greatest fear is given to the book's title-the effort to centralize the flow of information so that it may be controlled by a single entity.


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Monty Solomon
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