Great talk by Timothy Wu at the RSA yesterday. A talk about his book, Master Switch and a timely reminder of how history has a tendency to repeat itself. When new information industries appear (telephone, radio, film, tv), a pattern often emerges…
1. We get over-excited about the potential benefits (we think most technologies will solve the worlds problems).
2. There's a period of openness and experimentation by hobbyists (in the early days of telephone farmers would use barbed wire fences as telephone lines in an effort to be alerted when prairie fires started).
3. A corporate power intervenes and centralises control of the new medium. We accept this because once the novelty's worn off we want order, reliability and less spam. We're also overwhelmed by the openness and overwhelming choice/confusion.
4. The new power monopoly helps for the first 5 years or so, creating order out of chaos but after than innovation flounders and their key motivation becomes protectionism.
He drew an interesting analogy of monopolies with dictatorships. They often begin with a wave of populist support (Mubarak, Mugabe, Hitler & Mao) but become corrupted through absolute power.
So will the internet follow suit? Will Apple, Facebook & Google create closed, safe environments for us to sleepwalk our digital lives in?
I think not. It's always hard seeing beyond monopolies (Microsoft, MySpace) but the reality is, empires crumble. There's too much competition. Too much potential for upstarts to challenge the dominant.
I think we're ok for now…