Book Review: Nick Carr’s Big Switch


Nick Carr’s publisher was kind enough to send me a copy of his new book, “The Big Switch: Rewiring the world, from Edison to Google”. I have been reading the book on and off for the last few days. Overall, the The Big Switch is a very pleasant, thought provoking and easy read.

The book is essentially two books in one. In the “first” book, Carr discuss the move to “utility computing” (grid-based, aka cloud computing) and goes on to describe a number of historical analogies on how electricity utilities and grids were first introduced during the last century. The second “book” is made up of a series of essays on the social, moral and policy implications of our digital world. Though well researched, I found the first part rather boring.

With regards to utility computing, (Software virtualisation. Data Centre consolidation. IP connectivity. ITIL processes, hardware standardisation. Shared IT Services model). The idea sounds great and more and more enterprises are seriously starting to think about moving to this model for the future.

In the “second” book, (which I found very thought provoking) Carr, explores areas such as privacy, security and “market of one” opportunities and risks. He concludes that we are heading into a new era:

“In the years ahead, more and more of the information-processing tasks that we rely on, at home and at work, will be handled by big data centres located out on the Internet. The nature and economics of computing will change as dramatically as the nature and economics of mechanical power changed with the rise of electric utilities in the early years of the last century. The consequences for society – for the way we live, work, learn, communicate, entertain ourselves, and even think – promise to be equally profound. If the electric dynamo was the machine that fashioned twentieth century society – that made us who we are – the information dynamo is the machine that will fashion the new society of the twenty-first century”.

In both of Carr’s books, he treats Information Technology as a highly commoditised, yet essential service. The switch to Software as a Service (SaaS) model will have a profound effect on society and business, in the same way as cheap electricity had over a century ago. Carr argues that the switch to utility computing will shrink the workforce, lead to increasing income inequality, and destroy the middle class. This is fundamentally the thesis that he presents. However, Carr admits that it will take a couple of decades before businesses will be able to make the leap to this new cheap and ubitiquitous infrastructure based in the cloud.

“The Big Switch” is very well researched and extremely well written book. However, as was the case with Nick’s last book, “Does IT Matter?”, The Big Switch is designed with ideas to provoke the reader. Carr does not present any solutions to the above highlighted topics. However, his often controversial observations leave the reader with a large number of unanswered questions – This is of course where Nick Carr excels, encouraging debate amongst IT executives the world over.

I highly recommend getting a copy now that it is generally available.

Nick Carr interviewed – "The Big Switch"

Nick Carr being interviewed about his great new book, The Big Switch.  Grab a copy of one of the most important books of the year.


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Books for January 2008 – Seth Godin & Nick Carr

I’m looking forward to reading Seth Godin’s new book, “Meatball Sundae – How New Marketing Is Transforming The Business World”.

What is a meatball sundae? It’s something messy, disgusting and ineffective, the result of combining two perfectly good things that don’t go together. Meatballs are the basic staples, the things people need, the stuff that used to be marketed quite well with TV and other mass market techniques. The topping is new marketing: MySpace, websites, YouTube, and all of the magic that CEOs wish would shine atop their companies.

The problem? New marketing is lousy at selling meatballs.When confronted with the myriad opportunities presented by new marketing, people usually ask ‘How can we make this stuff work for us?’ This, as Seth Godin explains in his remarkable new book, is exactly the wrong question. Mapping out 14 trends that are completely remaking what it means to be a marketer – and by extension transforming what we make and how we make it – Godin shows how the question for any thriving 21st century business must be: ‘How can we alter our business to become an organization that thrives on new marketing?’ Meatball Sundae is an essential guide to the fundamental shift taking place in the marketing and business world, and shows you how to align your business to it.

Hugh has posted a great interview with Seth regarding the new book

The other book I’m really looking forward to is, “The Big Switch – Our New Digital Destiny”  by Nick Carr

In this eye-opening look at the new computer revolution and its consequences, Nicholas Carr explains why computing is changing and what this means for all of us.A hundred years ago, companies stopped producing their own power and plugged into the newly built electric grid. The cheap power pumped out by electricity providers not only changed how businesses operated but also brought the modern world into existence.

Today a similar revolution is under way as companies dismantle their private computer systems and tap into rich services delivered over the Internet. Computing is turning into a utility. The shift is remaking the computer industry, bringing competitors like Google to the fore and threatening traditional stalwarts like Microsoft. The effects will reach further as cheap computing changes society as profoundly as cheap electricity did. In this lucid and compelling book Carr weaves together history, economics and technology to explain the “big switch”.

Get your pre-orders in.