Has the internet run out of ideas already? The internet has delivered much, but now seems in a state of inventive stasis
Posted in: Internet Use/New Technologies at 29/04/2012 22:24
Earlier this year, American legal scholar Tim Wu published a sobering book: The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. In it, he surveyed the history of the great communications technologies of the 20th century - the telephone, movies, broadcast radio and TV. And in the story of each of these technologies, Wu discerned a pattern - "a typical progression of information technologies: from somebody's hobby to somebody's industry; from jury-rigged contraption to slick production marvel; from a freely accessible channel to one strictly controlled by a single corporation or cartel - from open to closed system. It is a progression so common as to seem inevitable, though it would hardly have seemed so at the dawn of any of the past century's transformative technologies, whether telephony, radio, television or film."
Each of these technologies, Wu argued, started out as gloriously creative, anarchic and uncontrolled. But in the end each was "captured" by corporate power, usually aided and abetted by the state. And the process in each case was the same: a charismatic entrepreneur arrived with a better consumer proposition - for example, a unified system and the guarantee of a dial tone in telephony; or a steady flow of good-quality movies created by a vertically integrated studio system in the case of movies - that enabled a corporation or a cartel to attain control of the industry. The big question, Wu asked, is whether this will happen to the net.
We're now at the stage where we should be getting the next wave of disruptive surprises. But - guess what? - they're nowhere to be seen. Instead, we're getting an endless stream of incremental changes and me-tooism. If I see one more proposal for a photo-sharing or location-based web service, anything with "app" in it, or anything that invites me to "rate" something, I'll scream.