Saturday, February 09, 2008

Pg. 99: Nicholas Carr's "The Big Switch"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Nicholas Carr's The Big Switch.

About the book, from the author's website:
His last book shook up the high-tech industry. Now, Nicholas Carr is back with The Big Switch, a sweeping and often disturbing look at how a new computer revolution is reshaping business, society and culture.

A hundred years ago, companies stopped generating their own power with steam engines and dynamos and plugged into the newly built electric grid. The cheap power pumped out by electric utilities didn’t just change how businesses operate. It set off a chain reaction of economic and social transformations that brought the modern world into existence. Today, a similar revolution is under way. Hooked up to the Internet’s global computing grid, massive information-processing plants have begun pumping data and software code into our homes and businesses. This time, it’s computing that’s turning into a utility.

The shift is already remaking the computer industry, bringing new competitors like Google and to the fore and threatening stalwarts like Microsoft and Dell. But the effects will reach much further. Cheap, utility-supplied computing will ultimately change society as profoundly as cheap electricity did. We can already see the early effects — in the shift of control over media from institutions to individuals, in debates over the value of privacy, in the export of the jobs of knowledge workers, even in the growing concentration of wealth. As information utilities expand, the changes will only broaden, and their pace will only accelerate.

Nicholas Carr is the ideal guide to explain this historic upheaval. Writing in a lucid, engaging style, he weaves together history, economics and technology to describe how and why computers are changing — and what it means for all of us. From the software business to the newspaper business, from job creation to community formation, from national defense to personal identity, The Big Switch provides a panoramic view of the new world being conjured from the circuits of the “World Wide Computer.”

Among the acclaim for The Big Switch:
"Future Shock for the Web-apps era ... Compulsively readable - for nontechies, too."
--Fast Company

"Quick, clear read on an important theme ... Scary? No doubt. But as we prepare for the World Wide Computer, it's not a bad idea to consider its dark side."
--Business Week

"Mr. Carr's provocations are destined to influence CEOs and the boards and investors that support them as companies grapple with the constant change of the digital age."
--Wall Street Journal

"Carr's book is persuasive, well-researched, authoritative and convincing. He's reasonable in his conclusions and moderate in his extrapolations. This is an exceedingly good book."

"While technological innovation is largely the creation of idealistic geniuses spurred on by utopian visions, Carr points out, it is rapidly co-opted by the incumbent in power and turned to other purposes ... Technology may be the ultimate tool or even the ultimate psychedelic, but do we really want to become utterly dependent on something about which we have essentially no say? And as for those utopian visions, do we really share them?"
--San Francisco Chronicle

"Magisterial ... Draws an elegant and illuminating parallel between the late-19th-century electrification of America and today's computing world."

"The Big Switch is thought-provoking and an enjoyable read, and the history of American electricity that makes up the first half of the book is riveting stuff. Further, the book broadly reinforces the point that it's always wise to distrust utopias, technological or otherwise."
--New York Post

"Carr created a huge rift in the business community with his first book, Does IT Matter?, challenging the conventional wisdom that information technology provides a competitive advantage. Here he examines the future of the Internet, which he says may one day completely replace the desktop PC as all computing services are delivered over the Net as a utility, the Internet morphing into one giant 'World Wide Computer.' ... Carr warns that the downside of the World Wide Computer may mean further concentration of wealth for the few, and the loss of jobs, privacy, and the depth of our culture."
--Booklist (starred review)
Read excerpts from The Big Switch -- "Where did the computer go?"; "Among the dynamos"; "A spider's web" -- and learn more about the author and his work at Nicholas Carr's website and his blog.

Carr is a former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review; he writes regularly for the Financial Times, Strategy & Business and the Guardian. His 2004 book Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage initiated a global debate about the role of computers in business.

The Page 99 Test: The Big Switch.

--Marshal Zeringue