The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires

By Tim Wu

{Knopf: forthcoming November 2010}

Fall 2010

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In his new book, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, communications law expert Professor Tim Wu submits that the internet may one day yield its openness to the forces of industry.

Using colorful, detailed accounts, Wu illustrates how the greatest technological innovations of the past century have all followed the same basic path: from open, widely accessible resource to closed, corporatized commodity. In his new book, Wu refers to that process of increasing limitation as “the Cycle”—a fate that has befallen the telephone, radio, and television in succession. Wu argues that the internet is not so different from the inventions that preceded it. And, he adds, if the past can predict the future, that open-to-closed cycle could also impact the future of the internet.

“History shows a typical progression of information technologies: from somebody’s hobby to somebody’s industry; from jury-rigged contraption to slick production marvel; from a freely accessible channel to one strictly controlled by a single corporation or cartel—from open to closed system,” Wu notes in the book. “If the Internet, whose present openness has become a way of life, should prove as much subject to the Cycle as every other information network before it, the practical consequences will be staggering.” And, Wu adds, he has already seen signs that the internet’s open network is closing.

The Master Switch has received starred reviews from both Kirkus Reviews and Publisher’s Weekly, which recently hailed the book as “a compelling and galvanizing cry for sanity—and necessary deregulation—in the information age.” In addition, Wu’s peers have also lauded the new publication.

“Every now and then a book changes the way we understand the world,” said Steve Coll, president of the New American Foundation and a Pulitzer Prize–winning author. “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.”

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