The Master Switch

The Rise and Fall of Information Empires

book | November 01, 2010

    Tim Wu

book cover

According to Columbia professor and policy advocate Tim Wu, 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.

BY: 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.

BY: 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.

BY: 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

A masterpiece.

BY: 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.

BY: 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.

BY: Arianna Huffington

Wu…artfully charts a single story in which economic power consistently trumps public good, with the Google of today being the latest ‘master switch’ that channels communication….Eye-opening reading, with implications for just about anyone who uses that utility, which means just about everyone.

BY: Kirkus (starred review)

[A] brilliant exploration of the oscillations of communications technologies between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ from the early days of telephone up through Hollywood and broadcast television up to the Internet era.

BY: Michael Noer, Forbes

Wu’s engaging narrative and remarkable historical detail make this a compelling and galvanizing cry for sanity…in the information age.

BY: Publisher’s Weekly (starred review and ‘pick of the week’)

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    Tim Wu