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The Master Switch
by Tim Wu

November 7, 2022
T. Alex Blum
The Master Switch
by Tim Wu

Everyone assumes that advancements in technology and innovation will lead to greater freedoms and democratization of society, but instead, more often than not, it is monopolistic business empires that result.

This book chronicles the rise and evolution of the great information technologies, from telegraph to telephone, film, radio, television, and eventually, the internet. Each of these was, in its own way and time, every bit as revolutionary as we perceive the rise of the internet to be today. Each of them started out in a chaotic, frenzied, environment of innovation, development, and cutthroat competition, unregulated and open, and each eventually consolidated into a tightly knit industry controlled by a highly limited group of players, or, in the case of ATT, one regulated monopoly.

The author identifies the common assumption that accompanies and often drives the growth of these technologies, which is that the results, by nature, are democratizing and contribute to the common good, when in fact history shows that the result is almost always a delicate balance between advancement and destructiveness.

When this book first came out ten years ago, the jury was still out on the evolution of the internet. The massive monopolies of Facebook and Google had not yet been firmly established and the insidious influence of social media on the integrity of the electoral process was unknown. The lightning-fast evolution of social media as a tool for spreading revolution and freedom, as evidenced in the Arab Spring, had not yet evolved into the strangulation of free speech through control of social media now practiced by dictatorships in China, Russia, Hungary, North Korea and elsewhere that technology has since also made possible. It is fascinating to see how prescient this book was about where the evolution of the internet was going to lead. This is a testament to the knowledge and expertise of the author, and a reminder that the best way to imagine the future is to familiarize yourself with similar events that have taken place in the past.

This is the best analysis of this subject that I have read, and it is, if anything, more relevant today than when it was published.


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