Saturday, September 24, 2011

Some Footnotes to Tim Wu

I spent a good chunk of the day with Tim Wu's Master Switch, and I can testify that it was time well spent: highly entertaining and enlightening history of what you might call "the communications industry," and in particular on, industry structure. Wu is big on "the cycle" --periods of free-flowing creativity and experimentation followed by he agonizing (and inevitable?) period of consolidation, when somebody gets control of the toll gate and, well, charges as toll.

I won't bother attempting a fullscale review at this late date, though I will indulge myself by noting a couple of points that intrigued me. One, if you like free competition in media, one of your natural allies is (ready for it, folks?)--Richard Nixon.  The combination of a free-competition ideology, a strong-minded and determined communications wonk and (who knows? Very likely) Nixon's own deep-seated resentment of what he saw as "the establishment: obliged to give us the cable revolution and the open-skies satellite policy, without which our world would have been much different.  And two, I'm impressed at how long it takes some changes to ripple through the system.  The Supreme Court put an end to the movie supply chain monopoly, and then to Ma Bell: in both cases, it was years before the full impact of the change filitered down to the masses (and in the case of telephone, it was over almost by the time it--finally--started).

Anyway: the cycle of free-flow and tollgate: with the internet, it seems we are still in something like free-flow but seen through Wu's eyes. it doesn't seem likely that we will stay there long.  Ma Bell seems to have pretty well clawed her way back to centrality (after a brief haitus during which none of us could make head or tail out of our phone bills anyway).  She doesn't have full control of the internet pipes just yet, although she has plenty of enablers standing ready to help her finish the job, not least Steve Jobs, who emerges as the dark energy at the end of the book (I read my Amazon download with my Iphone reader app).

If my search command is working right, there are just three mentions of Facebook, but given that the book was closed--what?  A couple of years ago?--I'm a little surprised there are that many..  But assuming Wu is still on the beat, I'd love to know what he thinks of this.

1 comment:

dilbert dogbert said...

Read a bit and could only wonder if the writer spits or swallows.