Out with the old and in with the new

While reading The Master Switch by Tim Wu, it didn’t take long for me to question the past, present, and future of communication technologies. The telephone, radio, and film industry have struggled with competition issues and have all endured a rise and fall within their development. The telegraph to the phone, the phone to the radio, the radio to film, they each have fought the success of previous industries, as well as trying to establish order through intrusion of ruling forces.

As Wu states in The Master Switch, “The Cycle”, is involved within each new and old technology. It begins with the new being introduced into the open, a place that many people and innovators are able to access. Eventually, control from big corporations, swoop in and close the once free and opened market, into something micromanaged and commanded. This process of closing the open, fights new innovation and disrupts creativity, all due to a threat of power and profit from the conglomerate. 

What becomes clear within the book, is that this cycle never stops turning. Even when new technology comes disrupts the current process, it only allows access to acquire a new rotation. “The Cycle” never really stops revolving, it just picks up where new technology begins, all in search of higher profit and power. Innovation provides advancement within our lives, but comes with a continuous price. When it comes to the future of the internet, it’s questionable if it can maintain it’s in own rhythm without such control.


“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.” – Tim Wu 


This cycle and constant fight for control, goes hand in hand with Schumpeter’s belief that “innovation and economic growth are one in the same”. There is a constant competition between technologies, industries, and those who manage them because of this underlying capitalist design.

Radio broadcast was a technology invented to bring communities and people together. It was a form of networking that allowed better communication and communities to connect. Although this is true, it’s design had other motifs as well, including profit and marketability. Each station was designed to appeal to a variety of people and their interests. Whether it was religion, music or sports, the radio was used for obtaining capital and profit managed by some higher power. Along with the radio, the telephone and film industry has been constantly managed by big companies. With a focus on price and class, each of these technological advances have ended up in the same governmental and corporate chain, failing to find freedom.


When we think of the cycle, we must recognize the end of the old is for the formation and success of the new, but that this success becomes the supply to power and profit. New technology has freedom from the cycle, but it threatens the capitalist, forcing a motive to end such freedom. Reading The Master Switch has shown me the influence and control of these higher powers, along with their ability to roadblock succession and innovation. It is important to recognize the freedom and openness of any technology can be just as easily closed.  Without resistance from this system our government has designed and established, this Cycle will remain endless.



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