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Part One of The Big Switch is primarily concerned with this progression of computing and IT from specialized service to mainstream utility, and I believe that most readers will find it as engrossing and enlightened as I did. But the tone and focus of Carr's book change dramatically as Part Two opens. Whereas Carr keeps Part One fairly value- or viewpoint-neutral, Part Two is a more spirited critique of the economic and cultural consequences of "The Big Switch."
In Part Two, he launches into his attack of the "techno-utopianism" that sometimes accompanies discussions about the implications of the Information Age and life in the cloud. "[O]ptimism is a natural response to the arrival of a powerful and mysterious new technology," but, Carr warns, "it can blind us to more troubling portents." And "there is reason to believe that our cybernetic meadow may be something less than a new Eden."
It is here that Carr's critique becomes familiar to those of us who follow the modern Internet policy debates. Carr is essentially joining the ranks of other Net skeptics like Andrew Keen, Lee Siegel, and others. This line of social criticism, or neo-Ludditism, can be traced back to the late Neil Postman, author of the 1992 anti-technology manifesto, "Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology."
Ultimately, however, I found Carr's case unconvincing. When it comes to the true impact of the Internet on our economy and culture, the truth is somewhere in between the two extremes staked out by Net optimists and pessimists. "Pragmatic optimism" might be the better approach: One can appreciate how much better off the Internet has made society while also recognizing that it has created new challenges that we need to think through.
Finally, I believe Carr makes a similar mistake when he argues that computers and the Internet are really more "technologies of control" than "technologies of emancipation." Carr adopts the same pessimistic tone set forth by Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu in their book "Who Controls the Internet," arguing that governments can and will bend digital communications tool and networks to serve their own ends. While I agree that computers and the Net give the big bad statist bureaucrats new tools of control, I persist in my belief that these digital tools offer the masses more methods of evading and minimizing the power of government over their lives and liberties. I think it is important to put things in some historical context. In the past, governments could completely control the media and disseminate incessant propaganda. It is far more difficult for them to get away with that today, and citizens have many tools and outlets at their disposal to respond. Digital technologies really are technologies of emancipation, but we can't expect them to break the backs of the statist thugs overnight.
[My complete review of Carr's book can be found on the Technology Liberation Front: http://techliberation.com/2008/10/30/book-review-nick-carrs-big-switch ]
Review: The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to GoogleUser Review - Jim Nielsen - Goodreads
I love Carr's writing on technology. I read this book over six years after it was published, but most of it was still quite relevant to today's tech scene. He has such a fascinating way of seeing through overhyped technology and revealing the often overlooked effects it has on our humanity. Read full review