Tim Wu’s new book “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires” – part 1

I really, really like this book and not because it has earth shattering theories or anything of that sort.  Rather, it is a collection of interesting facts that backup Wu’s main thesis.  Every information revolution seems the same and then it gets sucked into the mainstream and never fulfills its lofty expectations.

Wu does a good job of making his case, as he has done in other writings of his.  However, Wu is a bit of a pessimist and seems to discredit a lot of the fundamental shifts that occur due to these information revolutions.  In today’s world, the revolution is the Internet and all its offspring inlcuding new and social media.

If you were to read Wu’s book, then you would know that in a few years all this information will come under the control of a public/private entity (or a few of them) and the magic is gone.  This happened with the telegraph, radio, phone and television.  Granted, that is true, but if each of these technologies fundamentally changes the way we do things by 10-20% percent, then that is a gigantic shift in a period of 100-150 years.  The issue is, the affects of these technologies are not given enough credit by Wu.  He makes them seem almost static in time and does not mention the mountains of innovation that occur on top of them.

Networked systems have externalities that go far beyond the traditional affects of non-networked systems.  I cannot remember even reading the word externalities anywhere in the book.  So lets assume Wu is correct and that radio was basically co-opted by big industry – were not some people enabled?

The telephone was a monopoly for 60 years, was this not a revolution, single control or not?  Wu dismisses anything less than turning lead into gold as a failure and that is unfortunate.  It would seem that every mathematical revolution of all human history would follow under his theories as well – co-opted by the state to build their war machines – of what benefit to the common man is algebra and geometry?


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