The Master Switch

My review of Tim Wu’s new book.

At the heart of this fascinating book is one of the central questions of our age – rendered more urgent by recent events in the Arab world. The question is this: is the internet a revolutionary innovation, something that will overthrow the established order? Or will it turn out to have been just an unruly technology that the ancien regime will eventually capture and subdue?

Faced with the upheavals triggered by the network so far in economics, social life and politics, most people would probably say that the internet is indeed sui generis. But Professor Wu is not so sure, and therein lies the importance of his book. If the internet does indeed succeed in escaping the controlling embrace of corporations or governments, he argues, then it will be a historic first. For every other modern communications technology – telephone, radio, cinema and TV – has eventually succumbed to these forces…