The Big Switch: From Edison To Google (Book Review)

By Nicholas Carr

Have you ever lost the power where you live?

Have you ever lost your internet connection, and couldn't get back on?

Did you feel lost? You didn't know what to do for the rest of the day?

Strange isn't it…

The Big Switch is about our technological progress from developing electricity into a utility, through developing computing into a utility, and into complete immersion with the internet and all of its knowledge.

Nicholas teaches us about the social and economic driving forces brought about through introducing electricity.

At first, manufacturers relied on their own electrical production using hydro, coal, or other measures.

The evolutionary process was to develop ever-larger, and stronger production facilities, for each individual manufacturer.

Edison, and his colleagues had a monopoly on this forefront, emphasizing direct current, despite its limited distance in delivery.

With the discovery and implementation of alternative current, Nikola Tesla was able to revolutionize the ease of providing everyone with electricity.

With alternative current, we see the arrival of large power generating stations, and with that = cheap readily available electricity, available to both residential, and commercial uses.

The rapid development of electricity generation, and distribution allowed westernized nations to progress very quickly, technologically, socially, and commercially.

Nicholas quickly educates us on various innovations that progressed from the 30’s into the 70’s, such as nuclear power, communication technology, and most importantly, the introduction to computing.

The computing revolution is heavily influenced by the rapid, exponential production of information, and the perpetual need for information processing.

From processing large swaths of government census data, to calculating scientific, and business calculations.

Business development is an incredible driving force, for example, various airlines implemented large computers to increase ticket processing, thus reducing costs for travelers, and increasing revenues for the companies.

Financial institutions implement large risk-management portfolios for their various investments, while manufacturers require better, faster, stronger processes, all through calculations.

Thanks to business investing into computation, the costs quickly decreased, and we are introduced into personal computing, ie. Apple and Microsoft.

Personal computing allowed individuals to develop their own software, and take control away from corporate monopolies on computing innovation.

But while, personal computing was influential in giving power to consumers, it was the internet that allowed consumers to become producers.

As is widely known, CERN developed the internet, initially for military use, but the internet eventually became a consumer product.

Thanks to the development of internet browsers, websites were invented, and thus the rapid surge in the sharing of information, knowledge, opinions, and everything humanly in between.

But the excess information required meaningfulness, and Google’s Page algorithm came about in the mid 90’s to early 2000’s.

The algorithm allows search engines to know what a website is about, based on the links pointing to it.

This revolutionary idea took Google from a simple idea, into the world’s most powerful organizer of information.

Another important revolution involves computing as a utility.

We are no longer bound to purchasing expensive, physical hardware.

Instead, we can upload our information into the cloud (internet), and have it stay there perpetually, albeit, perhaps forever.

This freedom from hardware, allows us produce information, from anywhere on the planet, at any time, and is available to absolutely anyone.

This infrastructure, freedom, and ability is now, always there, just as electricity has become.

As electricity has become a utility, so has the internet, and search engines such as Google.

We expect it to be there, it is an invisible force that drives our motivations, expectations, and experiences.

Ultimately, Nicholas Carr expands on a revolutionary idea where humans will be completely plugged into this utility, and ironically, we become part of it as perpetual producers.

Read for history, economic, technological, and social value.

Big Switch book review

Big Switch: pick it up from your favourite book location 🙂

Recommend picking it up from your usual physical or online book location.



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