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The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empiresby Tim Wu
Synopses & Reviews
In this age of an open Internet, it is easy to forget that every American information industry, beginning with the telephone, has eventually been taken captive by some ruthless monopoly or cartel. With all ourmedia now traveling a single network, an unprecedented potential is building for centralized control over what Americans see and hear. Could history repeat itself with the next industrial consolidation? Could theInternet--the entire flow of American information--come to be ruled by one corporate leviathan in possession of the master switch? That is the big question of Tim Wu'spathbreaking book.
As Wu's sweeping history shows, each of the new media of the twentieth century--radio, telephone, television, and film--was born free and open. Each invitedunrestricted use and enterprising experiment until some would-be mogul battled his way to total domination. Here are stories of an uncommon will to power, the power over information: Adolph Zukor, who took a technologyonce used as commonly as YouTube is today and made it the exclusive prerogative of a kingdom called Hollywood . . . NBC's founder, David Sarnoff, who, to save his broadcast empire from disruptive visionaries, bullied one inventor (of electronic television) into alcoholic despair and another (this one of FM radio, and his boyhood friend) into suicide . . . And foremost, Theodore Vail, founder of the Bell System, the greatestinformation empire of all time, and a capitalist whose faith in Soviet-style central planning set the course of every information industry thereafter.
Explaining how invention begets industry andindustry begets empire--a progress often blessed by government, typically with stifling consequences for free expression and technical innovation alike--Wu identifies a time-honored pattern in themaneuvers of today's great information powers: Apple, Google, and an eerily resurgent AT&T. A battle royal looms for the Internet's future, and with almost every aspect of our lives nowdependent on that network, this is one war we dare not tune out.
Part industrial expose, part meditation on what freedom requires in the information age, The Master Switchis a stirring illumination of a drama that has played out over decades in the shadows of our national life and now culminates with terrifying implications for our future.
From theHardcover edition.
A secret history of the industrial wars behind the rise and fall of the twentieth century’s great information empires—Hollywood, the broadcast networks, and AT&T—asking one big question: Could history repeat itself, with one giant entity taking control of American information?
Most consider the Internet Age to be a moment of unprecedented freedom in communications and culture. But as Tim Wu shows, each major new medium, from telephone to cable, arrived on a similar wave of idealistic optimism only to become, eventually, the object of industrial consolidation profoundly affecting how Americans communicate. Every once free and open technology was in time centralized and closed, a huge corporate power taking control of the “master switch.” Today, as a similar struggle looms over the Internet, increasingly the pipeline of all other media, the stakes have never been higher. To be decided: who gets heard, and what kind of country we live in.
Part industrial exposé, part meditation on the nature of freedom of expression, part battle cry to save the Internet’s best features, The Master Switch brings to light a crucial drama—rife with indelible characters and stories—heretofore played out over decades in the shadows of our national life.
About the Author
Tim Wu is an author, a policy advocate, and a professor at Columbia University. He is best known for coining the term “net neutrality.” A veteran of Silicon Valley, in 2006 he was recognized as one of fifty leaders in science and technology by Scientific American magazine, and in 2007, 02138 magazine listed him as one of Harvard’s 100 most influential graduates. He writes for Slate, where he won the Lowell Thomas gold medal for Travel Journalism, and has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Forbes. He is also a fellow of the New America Foundation and the chairman of the media reform organization Free Press. He lives in New York.
Table of Contents
The rise. The disruptive founder ; Radio dreams ; Mr. Vail is a big man ; The time is not ripe for feature films ; Centralize all radio activities ; The Paramount ideal — Beneath the All-seeing Eye. The foreign attachment ; The legion of decency ; FM radio ; We now add sight to sound — The rebels, the challengers, and the fall. The right kind of breakup ; The radicalism of the Internet revolution ; Nixon's cable ; Broken Bell ; Esperanto for machines — Reborn without a soul. Turner does television ; Mass production of the spirit ; The return of AT&T — The Internet against everyone. A surprising wreck ; Father and son ; The separations principle.
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