Wu believes that we need to understand the past if we are to anticipate the future. He is surely right to claim that to understand how the use of current information technologies is likely to develop – in particular, the internet – it is necessary to understand the historical patterns of development of previous technologies, and the reasons behind such patterns. The state should support and stimulate the Schumpeterian dynamic of creative destruction, and that impeding this dynamic is never in the public interest. But the concentration of power in relation to the creation, transmission and exhibition of information constitutes a special case for regulation because ‘a song, a film, a political speech or a private conversation’ can change lives. Political revolution or genocide may be facilitated by the mass media. Control of mass media works to decide who gets heard and who does not. This makes regulation of information and communications services in services fundamentally different from regulation of products such as orange juice, electric toasters or running shoes. But the US Government has always been relatively indifferent to the dangers of abuse of private power. This book includes valuable analysis of the history of information technologies, concentrating on the United States.
The master switch: the rise and fall of information empires, by Tim Wu, London, Atlantic Books, 2010, 366 pages.
The full review was published in Prometheus, Volume 29, issue 2, 2011, pages 194-197