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

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

by Nicholas Carr


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“Magisterial…Draws an elegant and illuminating parallel between the late-19th-century electrification of America and today’s computing world.” —Salon

Hailed as “the most influential book so far on the cloud computing movement” (Christian Science Monitor), The Big Switch 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. In a new chapter for this edition that brings the story up-to-date, Nicholas Carr revisits the dramatic new world being conjured from the circuits of the “World Wide Computer.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393345223
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 06/10/2013
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 426,174
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Nicholas Carr is the author of The Shallows, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and The Glass Cage, among other books. Former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review, he has written for The Atlantic, the New York Times, and Wired. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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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The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Booknut62 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
wlmckee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fascinating look at the history of the computer revolution starting from the water wheel and locally-generated power systems. Carr focuses on how computing is becoming a utility (like electricity, computer power is becoming centralized into the "cloud") and the impacts this change is having (such as fewer workers needed to run services such as Skype or YouTube and privacy concerns as services such as Google and Facebook gather more data about us).
jontseng on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Brilliant exposition of cloud computing - the comparison to electricity really is a killer analogy. Unfortunately the later sections feel a little like a rehash of previously printed journalism.
lisahistory on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Outstanding book putting the infrastructure of the internet into the context of power technologies.
ennui2342 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have to say I was somewhat unsatisfied with this book after a certain amount of hype. It felt like there were two half books joined together. The first a rather good exploration of the rise of cloud/utility computing drawing a strong analogy with the rise of electricity as a utility. The second half descended into a critique of how society has been impacted by the rise of computing and the Internet, and the rather gloomy prospects which the 'World Wide Computer' brings to the society of the future.Both of these were great in themselves, but I would have been more impressed by a full book on either allowing the exploration of the topics in more depth.I was struck by some of thinking in the second part, particularly the discussions on how personalisation leads towards extremism; a kind of self-reinforcing echo chamber, the destruction of brand platforms and serendipity through the unbundling of content, and the implications of the long tail as a driver of extreme inequality in society. Each of these were thoughts I hadn't really come across previously and gave me a new perspective on the outcomes of the Internet for society.
eclecticlibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found the parallels between the evolution of the delivery of electricity from self-contained generator systems to the modern-day grid and the evolution of personal computing applications from desktop to the cloud to be fascinating, and a good argument for cloud computing. However, once making that argument, the author proceeds to show his true colors as an anti-technology, privacy-focused, Matrix-fearing Luddite. Disappointing.
DJMcKay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well here I go putting one more piece of data about myself out there in the cloud, so perhaps I wasn¿t as scared as I thought I was after reading ¿The Big Switch¿ by Nicholas Carr. Yesterday, when I read about AOL # 4417749 aka Thelma Arnold, I thought seriously about deleting every account I had and laying low for at least two years, so that Google (My favorite Big Brother.) would forget about me. Maybe I¿m braver than I thought and I should go ahead and try reading Stephen King, or maybe I¿m just still confident that I can say ¿No¿ the hidden subliminal sales pitches, or maybe I¿m just being foolish, but I can¿t see myself ever allowing them to implant a computer in my head. I can even stand the thought of getting my ears pierced, but I am a little worried about my grandsons who love computer games.
jaygheiser on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
How can I not like a book when the author draws from multiple sources from my library, including an author who wrote on the history of the electrical grid, a favorite culture critic named Neil Postman, and especially relevant to what we do, Beniger¿s book, The Control Revolution (a history of the origination of Information Governance that ought to be mandatory reading for everyone on the governance project). The first half of the book is a very cogent and compelling description of utility computing. I finally get it¿I really didn¿t get it until I read his book. Reasonable explanation, well thought out explanation of trends, makes lots of sense, and nothing that strikes me as being wildly inflated or unreasonable. After spending the first half talking about all the potential up side, he starts delving into the dark side, first of utility computing. Unlike Utopians such Tapscott and Friedman, he correctly points out that continuing improvements in IT economies of scale mean a lot of displacement in the job market, and he discusses the implications in detail. Then he pretty much walks away from utility computing (which is what the `big switch¿ refers to) and starts addressing other sorts of unfortunate consequences of the evolving Internet. Unlike Anderson (Long Tail), Carr feels that the leverage made possible by the Internet will put all sorts of `crafts people¿ out of business. He cites the example of a hugely popular dating site, with millions of customers in multiple countries¿completely run by a single individual. He discusses how opinion polarization will be exacerbated by Internet technology that enables people to not just pick and choose sources that exactly mirror their own opinions (refer to what I said in the top paragraph), but filtering and preference technology will actually encourage it. Think about how media choice has already exacerbated political polarization¿Carr has significant concerns that the Internet may be bad for democracy.Then he starts in on privacy, and search. He¿s got a couple of useful insights on Google, and then he zeroes in on what he feels is the end goal of Brin and Page¿total integration of the human brain with the Internet, augmented by Google¿s search burgeoning capabilities. This is NOT a story that Battelle told in The Big Search, but Carr has several very interesting quotes from not only the founders, but also Schmidt. He makes a compelling case that this is an ongoing agenda for them. Essentially, he suggests that Google is well on its way towards becoming The Beast."
timothyandrewbauer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent set of examples to support the movement of IT infrastructure to 3rd parties from internally ran solutions today.
dltj on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Towards the end of the last chapter of his book, Nicholas Carr relates an anecdote about the visit of a guest speaker to the Google headquarters: George Dyson, a historian of technology¿, Freeman Dyson, was invited to Google¿s headquarters in Mountain View, California, in October 2005 to give a speech at the party celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of von Neumann¿s invention [of an electronic computer that could store in its memory the instructions for its use]. ¿Despite the whimsical furniture and other toys, ¿Dyson would later recall of his visit, ¿I felt I was entering a 14th-century cathedral ¿ not in the 14th century but in the 12th century, while it was being built. Everyone was busy carving one stone here and another stone there, with some invisible architect getting everything to fit. The mood was playful, yet there was a palpable reverence in the air.¿ After his talk, Dyson found himself chatting with a Google engineer about the company¿s controversial plan to scan the contents of the world¿s libraries into its database. ¿We are not scanning all of those books to be read by people,¿ the engineer told him. ¿We are scanning them to be read by an [artificial intelligence engine].¿So concludes this work ¿ a view of technical progress from the emergence of electricity to the emergence of what Carr calls ¿the World Wide Computer.¿ In successive chapters, he builds the story line from the harnessing of electricity for commercial use to the economics of the migration from private power generation to common utility. He then uses that story line to illustrate the change happening with isolated computers being supplanted by a common computing utility. Call it a ¿grid¿ or ¿computing in the cloud,¿ Carr¿s vision of the future is dominated by a computing infrastructure that is greater than the sum of its parts: an infrastructure that we are all a part of building right now and an infrastructure that is as inevitable as the emergence of the electric utility that our lives depend on. An infrastructure built on the knowledge embedded in the choices each of us make online and the machine¿s comprehension of the knowledge gleaned from the scans of the books of the world¿s libraries.Carr¿s work is easy to read ¿ clearly the work of a writer who excels at expressing himself clearly. The ease at which one can read the words, though, only underscores the utterly transformative nature of the world now emerging. The picture he paints is not only of a rosy, utopian future, however. Carr gives equal time to the problems and challenges of the ¿big switch¿ to the World Wide Computer. But he makes clear that the World Wide Computer is in our future, just as sure as we are of what happens each time we flip a light switch.
AndreasJungherr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book is an accelerating read on recent changes in information technology and their impact on the society of the 21th century.Carr compares the recent developments toward grid, and cloud computing to the mayor transition in the USA from individually owned power stations to a centralised power grid. Through this comparison he shows the present changes in the context of another era of technological change. This moderates the feeling of The-Exceptionalism-Of-Our-Times so often found in the accounts of other commentators on the technological changes of today.As Carr discusses the developments toward grid computing, he describes the economical realities for businesses and consumers alike. In his account he portrays the recent developments in all their ambiguity: higher efficiency through automation vs unprecedented job losses for white collar workers; growing freedom of expression through easily distributed user generated content vs increasingly hard working conditions for professionals in the information business; equal power to digitally create for everyone vs rising inequality through huge economical rewards for few individuals; growing personalisation vs growing control for large institutions through huge amounts of rich data.Carr shows the flip-sides to nearly universally praised innovations. Without negating their possibilities he also shows their often unintended consequences. With his book Carr brings the discussions of professionals and academics on those topics to the main stream.In the epilogue Nicholas Carr reminds us that progress seems only linear through the benefit of hindsight. This book is a timely reminder that technological innovations do not always result in the promised or envisioned benefits. No matter what changes we foresee for society, no matter how carefully we plan, the unintended and unforeseen consequences of our actions are just as likely to change societies in ways not imagined by us.¿The Big Switch¿ is a great primer on advancements in different branches of information technology. It is also a great treatise on the nature of technological change and its resulting changes in societies.
cohenja on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book reads differently in its two halves. The first half is a rather ordinary retelling of two tales in parallel. The first is a history of electricity, and the second is a history of computing. Though done competently, the far more interesting and provocative perspective comes in the second half. There, Carr draws many examples of the Faustian bargain we have made in the web world. We welcome the convenience of the web, but we are gladly giving up our privacy to get it.
SigmundFraud on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Don't walk, run to your nearest bookstore to read Carr's dazzling THE BIG SWITCH. If you can only read one book in 2008 this should be it. The writing is clean, pure as spring water and thoughtful. Carr makes the coming "information utility" simple for the layman to understand. The description of the development of electricity and its impact on society is fascinating and lays the groundwork for the likely outcome of the information age over the next few decades. I enjoyed this book.
alsymer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While interesting and entertaining, The Big Switch suffers from some overgeneralizations about technology services in order to view them as a utility. Nonetheless, the book poses some interesting ramifications for the technology services and software industries by shaking the traditional software paradigm a bit and seeing what falls out.Carr's writing is clean, clear and enjoyable, which garners it, from my perspective, at least 3 stars for being a well-written business book that is worthy of finishing.
crustacean on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An excellent read. Carr has succeeded in writing intelligently about computers and computing without resorting to jargon or arcane technical descriptions. The first half of the book lays out Carr's central argument that computing is shifting to more of a centrally supplied, utility model, following the pattern of mechanical power's evolution a hundred years ago - with the Internet's "computing grid" serving as an analog to the electric grid. Our PCs are turning into network terminals, used mainly to draw data and software from the Internet. The second half of the book looks at what may happen as the computing grid - or the "World Wide Computer" - makes computing functions ever cheaper and more easily available. There are some persuasive and unsettling chapters about the effects of the next generation of computing on wealth distribution, privacy, and even the functioning of the mind. The book covers a lot of ground quickly but is rich with stories and revealing anecdotes.
CUViper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Big Switch talks about the business impact of the internet and computing as a service, drawing a comparison to the evolution of electricity from custom implementations to a big utility. The historical discussion is interesting, though I'm not convinced that the analogy will hold with the informational aspects of computing. In the latter part of the book, Carr talks about some of the social impacts that we're seeing, which speaks as a warning to me. The internet is polarizing beliefs and eroding personal privacy, and I don't think we've figured out the full consequence of this. The one criticism I'll make of the book is that while Carr does a good job discussing the issues, I don't feel that he really presents any novel predictions or solutions.
tgraettinger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thought-provoking. Motivated me to look into the Amazon storage and compute clouds.
haydenth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the Big Switch, Nicholas Carr walks readers through the history of electrification and computing. The early years of electrification were technologically limited - an electrical grid wasn't feasible and electricity was generated locally. Technology changed over time and electricity was rapidly centralized and networked. Power was produced remotely and delivered via a vast network of wires and cables. Over time, technology changed the way we live and do business. Based on this historical context, he draws a metaphor between electrification and the current model of computing. We're coming from a client-server model to a new model, what Carr calls "Utility Computing". He argues, like electrification, this is mostly facilitated by advances in network technology. In a utility computing environment, some firms act as utilities and merely provide a platform, while others develop applications to run on this platform. He cites Amazon's EC2 (Elastic Computing Cloud) and S3 (Simple Storage) services as examples; Amazon provides a centralized utility that users can quickly and at marginal cost, tap in to and rapidly develop scalable applications.To people in the computing industry, Carr isn't saying anything new. Many of us are in the middle of transitioning our own applications from an older client-server model to a web-based or utility based model. However, I think Carr does a great job at building the metaphor between electrification and computing. While, they are very different types of services, the historical context he clearly lays out shows how network effects can disrupt existing models of utility.However, I think Carr should have spent more time discussing some of the social implications of this technological shift. Just like how electrification changed the way we socially interact, utility computing has the power to do the same. Utility computing affords more decentralization and standardization of application development. What kind of impact is this going to have on highly complex businesses and what are the implications for users and managers? Some would argue that the technological development of Groupware in the 1980s had major social impacts on social relations in a business context. Likewise, I think utility computing will have similar effects. I wish Carr would have approached some of these more complex social questions in further detail.Otherwise, from someone working in the industry - I think Carr is right on the button and this book is definitely a "must read" for someone in the information industry.
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