Electricity transformed our way of life forever. The internet is doing the same. But it’s not all upside, says Nicholas Carr.
In the early days of electricity, many factories made their own power. Everyone had their own way of doing things and the equipment and generators wouldn’t work elsewhere. After a bit, electricity was created elsewhere, at huge generating facilities, then sent by power lines, plus everyone settled on one standard. This allowed it to be used on a societal basis.
In The Big Switch, Nicholas Carr uses that process as an analogy to show where the internet is going, to a cloud where increasing amounts of business and work are being done. It exists out there, not on your computer. You don’t know or care where electricity comes from nor do you know or care where your email, Salesforce.com, Facebook, Second Life or other such data and information resides. And those companies might not know either, as much of what they do is actually hosted on Amazon Web Services or a back end behemoth like that.
While he sees the liberating possibilities in all this, he warns that increased monitoring and surveillance is inevitable. Even if you protect your identity, technology exists now to take anonymized data from multiple websites and determine who the actual people are. There is no privacy on the net, get used to it.
There’s lots here to chew on and think about. He makes the fascinating point that many current web megasites use unpaid labor from their users to create what they are, and have madehuge amounts of money doing so. Google (via the links that others create) and YouTube are obvious examples. Facebook and Twitter are becoming the same. User-created content is what makes these sites a success. But only a tiny few, not the users, reap the financial rewards.
Electricity changed the world unalterably. We can’t imagine living without it, nor would we want to. The internet is becoming the same. But Carr’s not sure if it’s making us freer.