Home -> Law Blog Directory -> Legal Research Blogs -> Jenkins Webblits
(866) 635-2689 for Personal Injury or (866) 635-9402 for Criminal Defense
Find a Local Lawyer
Divorce (866) 635-6190
Personal Injury (866) 635-2689
Criminal Defense (866) 635-9402
Legal Research: Jenkins Webblits
Book Review: The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google, Nicholas Carr (2008)
I’m a sucker for a good story. Nicholas Carr starts his study of the effects of “Cloud Computing” on society with a visit to VeriCenter (now Sungard) datacenter in Boston:
“I realized that what I was standing in was a prototype of a new kind of power plant — a computing plant that would come to power our information age the way great electric plants powered the industrial age. Connected to the Net, this modern dynamo would deliver into our businesses and homes vast quantities of digitized information and data-processing might. It would run all the complicated software programs that we used to have to install on our own little computers. And, just like the earlier electric dynamos, it would operate with an efficiency never possible before. It would turn computing into a cheap, universal commodity.
‘This really is a utility,’ I said to [VeriCenter founder Mike] Sullivan.
He nodded, grinning. ‘This is the future.’” (page 5)
In the first half of The Big Switch (”One Machine”), Carr traces the evolution of both electricity and computing into utility services. For electricity, the development of alternating current allowed electrical service to become universally adopted. On the other hand, the massive amounts of fiber optical cable laid during the first Internet boom of the late 1990s was the key for utility computing.
“What the fiber-optic Internet does for computing is exactly what the alternating-current network did for electricity: it makes the location of the equipment unimportant to the user.” (page 60)
When electric power became a utility, the economics of scale took over. Companies realized that it was cheaper to plug into the grid than produce their own power. Ditto for computing — why run your own servers, manage all your software apps, and hire expensive IT staff when you can outsource all of it?
Microsoft, more than any other company, is aware of this. Chapter 4 is titled, “Goodbye, Mr. Gates”. Carr cites Bill G’s October 30, 2005 memo in which he says that cloud computing “will be very disruptive” to Microsoft’s core businesses: the operating system and desktop applications. Gmail, Google Docs, Zoho — all these, and more — allow consumers to duck Microsoft. “Using the programs requires nothing more than a cheap PC and a browser.” (page 68)
So we’re entering a Golden Age, where unlimited information is available to anyone who can get their hands on a cheap laptop, right? The second half of the book — “Living in the Cloud” — explores the consequences of grid computing, which are (as I see it):
Control - The Internet “provides bureaucrats with a powerful new tool for monitoring speech, identifying dissidents, and disseminating propaganda.” (page 200)
Corporate Profits - Google, YouTube, MySpace, and others make money off of our labors, which they take for free. In the case of YouTube’s Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, “It was the members of that community [of content creators] who had, by donating their time and creativity to the site, made the two founders extremely rich young men.” (page 143) “Every time we write a link, or even click on one, we are feeding our intelligence into Google’s system.” (page 219) “MySpace can be viewed as one huge platform for personal product placement.” (page 205)
Crap - Carr feels that, content-wise, the Net is a “culture of mediocrity.” Newspapers, in particular, are hurtling in this direction. “Online, however, most hard journalism becomes difficult to justify economically. Getting a freelance writer to dash off a review of high-definition television sets — or, better yet, getting readers to contribute their own reviews for free — would produce much more attractive returns [from online ads].” (page 155)
(Like the alliteration? Worked that out myself.)
Do I believe all this? I have to admit that Carr appears to be prone to hyperbole. He recently published an article in The Atlantic Monthly entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid? which revisits a theme from the end of The Big Switch: “The Net provides no incentive to stop and think deeply about anything.” (page 228) So I’ll take what he says with the proverbial grain of salt. But he does get me thinking, and that’s a good thing.
Search Blog Directory: