Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Big Switch, Nicholas Carr

The subject book uses the history of industrial power from manual to water to steam to local generators to electricity supplied by utilities as a model for the ground covered to date and assumptions for the future of the move of computing power from individual companies and homes to the global "cloud or grid" of utility computing.

Carr believes that the Amazons, Googles, Yahoos and such are going to defeat Microsoft. In general, so do I, the model is changing. Software and solutions are already being delivered as services over the web with nearly zero impact on the client/user side. This Blog is done using Blogger, a free service of Google paid for by advertising. I happen to be typing it on a Mac computer, but that really makes no difference, the Firefox browser that the Blogger software runs within runs on Mac, Windows, Linux, and I'm sure a number of other platforms. This Blog is part of the cloud of the future.

He does some analysis of what we ought to all know to have been true since the first human whacked something with a rock or stick. Tools provide leverage; they allow one or a few people to create a lot more value than people without tools. They also move value around. Carr laments how small groups of people at YouTube, Facebook and such were able enlist vast groups of people to create all the content and then sell out to larger corporations for 100's of millions of dollars. He suspects more of this will happen and I suspect that he is right--I also suspect that a lot of other different large fortunes will be made in ways that are unforeseen to both Nick and I. If we DID foresee them, then I would guess we would go out and make them ourselves, or at least invest in those that will. He doesn't really say what he might DO about that, he just does some lamenting.

He ends up with a little ghost story about how the guys at Google want to create a computer smarter than we are, and they are really serious. In the epilogue he talks of how the move from candles to electric light caused us to "lose something" ... candles gave a glow, a reality that electric light did not. We have lost that. He laments that by the turn of this next century (2100), we will no longer have any people that had dealt with the world prior to the computer, and that will be a loss. He closes with this quote:
"As older generations did, they take with them the knowledge of what was lost when the new technology arrived, and only the sense of what was gained remains. It's in this way that progress covers its tracks, perpetually refreshing the illusion that where we are is where we were meant to be."
It is a nice wistful quote, but how about books? At least the Roman Catholic Church would argue that we suffered a great loss due to books, since the reformation would not have happened without them. Fire? I'm sure that life prior to man having fire was very different than life with control of fire. Anesthetic? Certainly not having that would allow us to be MUCH more in touch with our bodies during surgery!

I don't disagree with him that much, and I like his prose, I'm just left with the "and your point would be"? I don't think he is suggesting either that we should give up progress or that we ought to really slow it down.

Maybe it is sort of like "once the Christmas of your son or daughter being 6 is over, it will never come again, no Christmas will we really like that ... we should be aware of that".

Very true! So we are aware. Now let's get that superhuman computer built and create the equivalent of fire that we will be unable to imagine the world without it's existence!

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