I finished the book:  The Big Switch Rewiring the World from Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr while on vacation.   It’s great read and I recommend it to any of you.  I love a book that I think addresses one concept then hits me with unexpected ideas.  This book did exactly that.  I thought I was reading a book about technology and the cloud – and I was – but it came with an economic and cultural subplot that really jumped out at me.

The Big Switch is about the looming storm front called cloud computing.  Carr doesn’t talk about the WWW – World Wide Web, but instead talks about the WWC – World Wide Computer.   The cloud conglomeration of technology on the computer grid is changing technology, economics and our American culture.

Carr tracks the history of manufacturing from Burden’s waterwheel and factories on the river (see the Grand Rapids Public Museum and our GR Furniture Building) to over 50,000 Edison’s Dyno generators in  each factory in America to electric utilities displacing company owned generators.  Why own a generator when a centralized utility will manage and deliver the service for less money?  Leap forward to servers installed at individual companies and you see where this is going.   Cloud based grid computing is a logical technological and economic trend.  We’re on the front edge of this wave right now.

The economic subplot in the book is fascinating to me.  Essentially, technology has been the driver of productivity worldwide forever.  From the invention of the wheel, the wick (yes, candle wick) to Ford’s assembly line, innovators have been applying new technologies to human labor to improve productivity and create wealth for millenniums.   Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. and the new worldwide computer grid are changing that paradigm substantially.  Note that previously technology was applied to human paid labor (employees) productivity to improve results.  Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and online companies are now creating billions of dollars in value with ‘free’ labor.  Google uses our search information to create value.  You and I aren’t paid for that labor.  Facebook creates value through the relationships and content that you and I create on that site.  Facebook may have created $100 billion of market value by assembling ‘free’ information that you and I delivered!  YouTube uses free videos submitted worldwide to create value.  They don’t pay producers, directors or actors.  This is a dramatic shift in value creation.  I submit that these companies have generated $1/2 – 1 Trillion in value using ‘mass amateurization.’   You and I deliver the value and content for free.   The implication for employment and jobs as internet technology progresses from WWW to WWC is equally interesting and worth pondering.

The cultural subplot is equally fascinating.  The last living humans who lived pre-electric are now dying.  Imagine living when the only light after the sun goes down is from your lamp, candle or fire.  No street lights, no ceiling lights, no reading lights.  Just darkness.   Can you imagine every evening being like a camping experience – gathering around the fire 365 nights per year?   Carr  concludes the book with a brief glimpse into the future – 80 years from now when the last human that lived pre-www dies.  Do you remember what it was like pre-internet,  pre-cell phone, pre-smart phone?  Our American culture changed forever with the application of electricity and it is going through a seminal change with the application of the world wide web / computer to our everyday lives.   What are the implications, gains and losses of this progress?

Read any good books lately?  If so, tell me about it – or consider The Big Switch as an excellent read and a view into the change that’s coming to business and technology ...

 Michael Ritsema
i3 Business Solutions, LLC

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Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.