A leading technological rabble-rouser prognosticates a world beyond Web 2.0.
Carr (Does IT Matter?, 2004) rattled the confidence of international conglomerates with a 2003 article in the Harvard Business Review declaring that proprietary information technology is superfluous to the industries it augments. Here, he examines the burgeoning phenomenon of “utility computing”: bundling data processing into a metered service not unlike the electric company. The concept immediately recalls the second-generation applications trumpeted by Wired, exemplified by Google and now infiltrating the wireless world. Indeed, the author wastes no time in holding up the multifaceted Google and its offshoots as prime examples of the new practice of employing Ethernet-linked server farms processing simultaneous data. The first section builds Carr’s case using historical analogies that trace, for example, a direct line from Edison’s light bulb to the “White City” of the 1893 World’s Fair to the social impacts of cheap, available power in the 20th century. He makes some salient points about the duplication of efforts among IT departments guarding their own fiefdoms. A chapter titled “Goodbye, Mr. Gates” posits the rise of utility computing as a primal shift between the PC age and the new world, with a few gloomy forecasts predicting that more traditional companies (dubbed “weapons suppliers in the IT arms race”) may soon find that their wellspring has dried up. The second section examines the behavior of users in this new matrix and surveys the “economic, political, and social upheaval” wrought by the change in operating models. Examining this change, Carr seesaws from the dismal fallout (the death of newspapers) to the merely curious side effects (the nontraditional “game” called Second Life). His broader sociological observations are punctuated by a pair of ominously prescient chapters about privacy issues and cyberterrorism.
Carr makes some sophisticated leaps of logic tying together the causes and effects of this evolving network of information, but many of his observations are fairly old news.