I recently finished reading ‘The Master Switch by Tim Wu, a fairly exhaustive chronicle of telecommunications, radio, film, television, cable television and the Internet in the United States over the past hundred years or so.
Poring through the chapters I was constantly reminded of the old adage: “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. For example, did you know:
- That long distance telephony was once as wild and open a frontier as the Internet? Ditto for AM radio?
- That the answering machine as we know it today was developed at Bell Labs in the 1930s, then shelved for half a century?
- That Android vs. iOS is far more than just fanboy camps squaring off; it’s a fight for the very future of mobile devices?
It was fascinating to read how every new and disruptive technology of the 20th century seems to have gone through the same cycle of boom and doomed — that is, start off as open and free but eventually fall under the control of large corporations.
And the Internet could be next.
More and more of us are willingly handing over our personal data to Facebook, Google and the like. And the generative computers described in a previously-reviewed book are rapidly becoming locked-down information appliances.
There’s a great quote from the author in an interview he did on Jesse Brown’s Search Engine podcast; I may be paraphrasing a bit, but it was something to the effect of: “We beget monopolies through the choices we make.”
If you want to save the Internet rather than hasten its demise, read this book. It’s important.