Saturday, February 9, 2008

Nicholas Carr

From an interview with Nicholas Carr, author of The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google:

You write that the computer is escaping its box. How so?

Computers used to be self-contained devices. If you wanted to do something with your PC, you had to buy a piece of software and install it on your hard drive. That began to change when the World Wide Web arrived in the 1990s. Suddenly, if you had a network connection and a browser, you could tap into millions of web pages that were stored not on your PC but on other people’s computers. The PC began to turn inside out — what was important wasn’t what was inside its case but what was outside it.

But that was just the start. Today, a far more radical change is under way, thanks to the proliferation of very fast broadband connections. Rather than just using the Internet to visit web pages, you can use it to run very sophisticated software - the kind of software that you used to have to run on your own drive. Computing is breaking out of its old beige box and moving onto the Internet.

The World Wide Web, you say, is turning into the World Wide Computer.

Right. Now that they’ve been connected with fiber optic cables, all the machines hooked up to the Net are merging together into one giant, incredibly powerful computer - the World Wide Computer. Our own personal PCs, not to mention our cell phones and gaming consoles, are turning into terminals hooked up to that big shared computer. They get most of their power and usefulness from all the software and information that’s floating around out on the Net.

In The Big Switch, I draw a parallel to what happened with the invention of electric utilities a hundred years ago. Before the electric utility, people had to generate their own power to run their machines - with waterwheels or steam engines or just their own muscles. But as soon as the wires for the electric grid were strung, they no longer had to worry about producing their own power. Power was delivered to their home or their office over the network, and all they had to do was plug an appliance into the socket in the wall. That’s what’s happening to computing today. It’s turning into a service supplied over a network. It’s becoming a utility.

Read the full Q & A.

The Page 99 Test: Nicholas Carr's The Big Switch.

--Marshal Zeringue