The Guardian is running an interview with Professor Tim Wu, who recently published The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires . I’m about three quarters of the way through the book, which offers a refreshingly detailed comparison between regulation of early communications networks in the 19th and 20th centuries and the future of the internet. The interview offers a good summary:
“We are in a critical period for the internet,” Tim Wu, the book’s author, says. “What the internet is, is in flux.” … An academic lawyer by trade — he has taught at Chicago, Columbia and Stanford — Wu has also long been a respected commentator on internet issues, and writes regularly for Slate magazine. … The Master Switch is less concerned with the rights and wrongs of the internet today, and more concerned with its long-term future. “The internet is about 15 years into its cycle as an open medium,” says Wu, “and at that moment in their cycle, most open media tend to turn to closed media.” What Wu means is that the internet might be about to go the same way as the information services of the 20th century: the telephone, radio, cinema and television. “Internet is the descendant of these industries,” Wu says, “a 15-year-old teenager.” And if we want to know what kind of adult this teenager will become, “the clearest way is to look at its parents, and look what happened to them when they reached their 20s”.
I had the privilege of talking with Wu after a lecture in Oxford last week, when he shared his thoughts on how ‘the cycle’ might play out in the context of a globalised internet and more powerful competition regulators. Recommended reading for anyone interested in economics, competition law or technology policy.