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.

Author: Jas

Jas Dhaliwal is a highly experienced International Social Media Strategist. Currently working as AVG Technologies, Director of Communities and Online Engagement, he specialises in building and engaging with social communities across the web. Born and bred in London, he is passionate about technology and social anthropology. Prior to AVG, Jas launched the social media program for Microsoft’s MVP Award program. Jas holds a BSc (Hons) in Information Systems and has an MBA from Brunel University in London, England. You can follow Jas as @Jas on Twitter or on Google+