Nordic Track Book Club Review: The Big Switch

The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google was written by Nicholas Carr, the author of Does IT Matter?  Switch is much like a “Does IT Matter” Part II, where Carr proposes that computing is becoming a utility much like electricity, something all around us we no longer have to think about. But unlike electricity, the computer grid may have ominous side affects.  This book is like Ray Kurzweil on depressants. Not pretty.  Yet Carr makes a lot of observations about a dark side of ubiquitous computing that are hard to argue against. 4-out-of-5 [NordicTrack] Stars.


p.11 Around a century ago, manufacturers no longer had to be in the power generation business. What happened to the generation of power at that time is now happening to the processing of information.  Private computer systems are being supplanted by services provided over a common grid.

What is Google but a giant information utility.  Where’s the computer chip that processed your last Google search. You don’t know and you don’t care—anymore than you know or care about which generating station produced the kilowatts that light the lamp on your desk.

p.16 Current fragmentation of IT is wasteful. It is not sustainable. In the end the savings offered by utilities become too compelling to resist, even for the largest enterprises. The grid wins.

p.26 Unlike lesser inventors, Edison didn’t just create individual products, he created entire systems. He first imagined the whole, then he built the necessary pieces, making sure they all fit together seemlessly.

p.47 Even as companies were dismantling their power generation departments they were establishing new departments dedicated to the fledgling techhnology of automated data processing.

p.57 The replication of 10’s of 1000’s of independent data centers, all using similar hardware, running similar software and managed by similar types of workers has imposed severe penalties on the economy.

p.81 We may find twenty or so years from now that the personal computer has been a museum piece, a reminder of a curious time when all of us were forced to be amateur computer technicians.

p.146 Computerization puts many wage earners in a double bind. It reduces the demand for their jobs even as it expands the supply of workers ready and able to perform them.

In the YouTube economy, everyone is free to play, but only a few reap the rewards.

p.157 We may find that the culture of abundance being produced by the world wide computer is really just a culture of mediocrity—many miles wide, but only a fraction of an inch deep.

p.198 The connection of previously untethered computers into a network governed by strict protocols has actually created a new apparatus of control.

p.216 “Ultimately,” explained Google’s Brin, “we want to have the entire world’s knowledge connected to your mind.” Bill Gates said that he was wary of that idea. “I don’t feel the same way. I’m happy the computer is over there and I’m over here.”

p.217 It also offers the potential for outside control of human behavior through digital media. We will become programmable, too.

p.219 We play a similar role to the Mechanical Turk without even realizing it in the operation of Google’s search engine.

p.228 We are the web’s neurons. The more links we click, pages we view, and transactions we make—the more faster we fire—the more intelligence the web collects, the more economic value it gains, the more profit it throws off.



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A long time developer, I was an early adopter of Linux in the mid-90's for a few years until I entered corporate environments and worked with Microsoft technologies like ASP, then .NET. In 2008 I released Sueetie, an Online Community Platform built in .NET. In late 2012 I returned to my Linux roots and locked in on Java development. Much of my work is available on GitHub.