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January 20, 2012 10:02 pm
The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, by Tim Wu, Atlantic, RRP£9.99, 368 pages
The Bell Telephone Company provides the central thread of Tim Wu’s breezy and fascinating book on the past century’s corporate rivalries. From Alexander Graham Bell’s struggle to defend his invention from telegraph giant Western Union to Apple’s iPhone partnership with AT&T (Bell’s present incarnation), Wu examines the threat of innovation to established companies and how the industrial structure of the US determines the limits of free speech.
Wu’s argument that breakthrough technologies initially offer radical freedoms before being monopolised by vested corporate interests leads to sobering concerns over present and future internet freedoms. Yet, more engrossing is the whistle-stop tour he takes en route, which covers chicanery among radio pioneers and the struggle for control of broadcast television, and spotlights key players from 1920s Hollywood mogul Adolph Zukor to flamboyant cable king Ted Turner.
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