Review: The Master Switch

  • April 4, 2011
  • James Skemp
  • review

The following is a review of The Master Switch, by Tim Wu.

A long while back I had first read mention of this book on a blog I subscribed to, the author of whom writes about technology. He briefly mentioned the book before going on to some related discussion.

And that’s about all I remember. He praised the book, but I can’t recall why. Having now finished the book, I can honestly give it some praise as well, but I fear a repeat of what’s happened in the past. Which, to some effect, rather sufficiently sums up this book on information empires.

In The Master Switch Tim Wu talks us through the rise and fall of information empires - businesses built around the telephone, radio, television, movies, and the Internet - with AT&T being something of the ‘favored child,’ in that it’s brought up again and again (for good reason).

Tim tries to show us that each information empire rises and falls according to a sort of cycle. First the system is open wide, until it closes up as empires are built, only to fall as a new technology comes to the front.

Of course, the ‘master switch’ is also supposed to make us think of what was going on around the time of this book’s publication, which was the concern of net neutrality - keeping the Internet open for all, without favor given to select providers of content, and etcetera. The title is fitting because, with perhaps the exception of the ‘new’ (present-day) Internet, all the previous information empires did in fact seem to develop a sort of master switch.

It should be noted that while it seems the book would focus rather heavily on the Internet, and that was in fact my initial understanding, that’s not really the case. Because I was expecting this I did find the first half of the book to be a little slow and dis-jointed. It was rather difficult, at first, to determine why it was that he kept bouncing around (in my opinion).

But shortly after the half-way point the book really started to come together, with all the initial pieces starting to fall into place.

The ending, which I won’t go into here, is debatable, since I found it to quickly slow down the ending of the book, but his points are valid (and more than a bit idealistic).

Altogether, though, I found the book very good, and did a great job of pulling together the historical significance of events.

I give the book 4 of 5 stars, since I find the book generally appealing to those who would be interested by the title, but fear that people may stop after 13 of the book, or so.