The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google

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The Big Switch, Nicholas Carr's best-selling look at the new computer revolution, makes a simple and profound statement: Computing is turning into a utility, and the effects of this transition will ultimately change society as completely as the advent of cheap electricity did. 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."
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
With the rise of Silicon Valley, pundits heralded the advent of "the computer revolution." But, according to former Harvard Business Review executive editor Nicholas Carr, you ain't seen nothing yet. In this persuasive, eye-opening book, Carr argues that we are experiencing changes in business and society as profound and stunning as the transformations of the early industrial age. He contends that cheap computing is enabling users to dismantle their private systems and tap the rich services available on the Internet.
Publishers Weekly

While it may seem that we're in the midst of an unprecedented technological transition, Carr (Does IT Matter?) posits that the direction of the digital revolution has a strong historical corollary: electrification. Carr argues that computing, no longer personal, is going the way of a power utility. Manufacturers used to provide their own power (i.e., windmills and waterwheels) until they plugged into the electric grid a hundred years ago. According to Carr, we're in the midst of a similar transition in computing, moving from our own private hard drives to the computer as access portal. Soon all companies and individuals will outsource their computing systems, from programming to data storage, to companies with big hard drives in out-of-the-way places. Carr's analysis of the recent past is clear and insightful as he examines common computing tools that are embedded in the Internet instead of stored on a hard drive, including Google and YouTube. The social and economic consequences of this transition into the utility age fall somewhere between uncertain and grim, Carr argues. Wealth will be further consolidated into the hands of a few, and specific industries, publishing in particular, will perish at the hands of "crowdsourcing" and the "unbundling of content." However, Carr eschews an entirely dystopian vision for the future, hypothesizing without prognosticating. Perhaps lucky for us, he leaves a great number of questions unanswered. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
A leading technological rabble-rouser prognosticates a world beyond Web 2.0. Carr (Does IT Matter?, 2004) rattled the confidence of international conglomerates with a 2003 article in the Harvard Business Review declaring that proprietary information technology is superfluous to the industries it augments. Here, he examines the burgeoning phenomenon of "utility computing": bundling data processing into a metered service not unlike the electric company. The concept immediately recalls the second-generation applications trumpeted by Wired, exemplified by Google and now infiltrating the wireless world. Indeed, the author wastes no time in holding up the multifaceted Google and its offshoots as prime examples of the new practice of employing Ethernet-linked server farms processing simultaneous data. The first section builds Carr's case using historical analogies that trace, for example, a direct line from Edison's light bulb to the "White City" of the 1893 World's Fair to the social impacts of cheap, available power in the 20th century. He makes some salient points about the duplication of efforts among IT departments guarding their own fiefdoms. A chapter titled "Goodbye, Mr. Gates" posits the rise of utility computing as a primal shift between the PC age and the new world, with a few gloomy forecasts predicting that more traditional companies (dubbed "weapons suppliers in the IT arms race") may soon find that their wellspring has dried up. The second section examines the behavior of users in this new matrix and surveys the "economic, political, and social upheaval" wrought by the change in operating models. Examining this change, Carr seesaws from the dismal fallout (the death of newspapers)to the merely curious side effects (the nontraditional "game" called Second Life). His broader sociological observations are punctuated by a pair of ominously prescient chapters about privacy issues and cyberterrorism. Carr makes some sophisticated leaps of logic tying together the causes and effects of this evolving network of information, but many of his observations are fairly old news. Agent: Ralph Sagalyn/Sagalyn Literary Agency
The Wall Street Journal
“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.”
“Persuasive, well-researched, authoritative and convincing....He's reasonable in his conclusions and moderate in his extrapolations. This is an exceedingly good book.”
“Magisterial ... Draws an elegant and illuminating parallel between the late-19th-century electrification of America and today's computing world.”
Business Week
“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.”
Christian Science Monitor
“[W]idely considered to be the most influential book so far on the cloud computing movement.”
The Register
“The first serious examination of 'Web 2.0' in book form.”
The New York Post
“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 Humanist
“Carr may take a somewhat apocalyptic view of the vast technological and social issues which a move to utility computing will raise, not least those of privacy, ownership and access, but he makes a compelling case for its desirability in a world where the network is pervasive. Whether we go gently into this world is, of course, up to us, but with the insight offered here we will at least be prepared to understand the consequences of our choices earlier in the process rather than later.”
Times Higher Education Supplement
“Lucid and accessible ... [Carr's] account is one of high journalism, rather than of a social or computer scientist. His book should be read by anyone interested in the shift from the world wide web and its implications for industry, work and our information environment.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“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?”
Washington Times
“Mr. Carr is always interesting.”
Financial Times
“The best read so far about the significance of the shift to cloud computing.”
“'Information is born free, but everywhere is found in chains.' So Nicholas Carr—in his latest and characteristically stimulating challenge to conventional thinking about technology—might have paraphrased Rousseau.”
Public CIO
“Nick Carr has written a meditation on the loss of the old when confronted by the new, the loss of the incumbents' advantage when history shifts under them, the loss of data control to third parties, and the loss of sovereignty to institutions and other actors we can't control.”
Technology Review
“The Big Switch ... will almost certainly influence a large audience. Carr persuasively argues that we're moving from the era of the personal computer to an age of utility computing - by which he means the expansion of grid computing, the distribution of computing and storage over the Internet, until it accounts for the bulk of what the human race does digitally. And he nicely marshals his historical analogies, detailing how electricity delivered over a grid supplanted the various power sources used during most of the 19th century ... I also suspect he's right to suggest that in a decade or so, many things we now believe permanent will have disappeared.”
The Telegraph
“Considered and erudite.”
Information Age
“Carr stimulates, provokes and entertains superbly.”
“Starred Review. 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.”
“An enjoyable and thought-provoking read.”
“[#4 on Newsweek's "Fifty Books For Our Times":] You've heard of 'cloud computing,' but let's be honest, you really don't know what it means. Or why it's going to change everything.”
Greensboro News-Record
The Big Switch explains the future of computing in terms so simple I can understand them.— Ed Cone
Fast Company
“Future Shock for the Web-apps era. . . . Compulsively readable—for nontechies, too—as it compellingly weaves together news stories, anecdotes, and data.”
Wall Street Journal
“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.”
Ed Cone - Greensboro News-Record
“The Big Switch explains the future of computing in terms so simple I can understand them.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393062281
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/7/2008
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Nicholas Carr is the author of The Shallows, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, as well as The Big Switch and Does IT Matter? His articles and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Wired, and the New Republic, and he writes the widely read blog Rough Type. He has been writer-in-residence at the University of California, Berkeley, and an executive editor of the Harvard Business Review.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: A Doorway in Boston 1

Part 1 One Machine

1 Burden's Wheel 9

2 The Inventor and His Clerk 25

3 Digital Millwork 45

4 Goodbye, Mr. Gates 63

5 The White City 85

Part 2 Living in the Cloud

6 World Wide Computer 107

7 From the Many to the Few 127

8 The Great Unbundling 149

9 Fighting the Net 169

10 A Spider's Web 185

11 iGod 211

Epilogue: Flame and Filament 231

Appendix The Cloud 20 235

Notes 245

Acknowledgments 271

Index 273

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Thoughtful and Technologically Enlightening Read

    Nicholas Carr's book is a fascinating look at where the World Wide Web and related technologies just might be taking us. He helps readers see future possibilities and possible pitfalls in the world's evolution toward what he calls the "World Wide Computer." While the Web has brought freedom and possibility, Carr dares to point out that it might also be bringing economic inequity and a questions about personal privacy and security. According to Carr, there is great promise in the "World Wide Computer" but perhaps we need to be more sober in our advocacy for its place in the world.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    A vision of the future of computing

    This book illustrates the progression towards centralization of computing tasks on the Internet by comparing it to the establishment of electric grids early in the early 20th century. It is a good analogy. It is also a little scary to think that all kinds of our personal information could end up stored on computers over which we have no control, as anyone who has looked at Google's "web History" feature will see.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2009


    Very convincing and clearly gets the point across. IT has matured enough that platforms are almost interchangeable; a sign for cutting cost. Engineers (we) need to be more business oriented than ever before to remain relevant to a company's business strategy.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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