The Master Switch Book Summary - The Master Switch Book explained in key points
Listen to the Intro

The Master Switch summary

Tim Wu

The Rise and Fall of Information Empires

4.4 (17 ratings)
15 mins

What is The Master Switch about?

In The Master Switch, author Tim Wu traces the development of information technology such as radio, film and television and illustrates how great innovations always come to be controlled by big corporations. Critically, Wu asks whether the internet will succumb to the same fate, or if its inherent design could help it avoid corporate domination.

Table of Contents

    The Master Switch
    summarized in 8 key ideas

    Audio & text in the Blinkist app
    Key idea 1 of 8

    Phone, radio and film all had a period of “openness” in the early days of the technology.

    Throughout history, the lifecycle of information technology has followed a typical progression. A technology starts out being freely accessible, but gradually becomes controlled by a single corporation or cartel.

    From open, then, to closed. This progression is so typical that it's been given a name: the cycle.

    The development of the telephone exemplifies the cycle. The cycle usually begins in a laboratory, attic or garage where a hobbyist or engineer tries to solve a concrete technical problem.

    For the telephone, it began when Alexander Bell rushed to register a patent after tinkering with metal rods tuned to different frequencies. He wanted to convert electrical currents into sound.

    By the time Bell's patent expired in 1894, hundreds of independent telephone services had already appeared, which allowed for the “open” phase of the telephone. Everyone could tinker with the new technology.

    Radio also experienced an early open phase. Like the telephone, it was pioneered by amateurs and accessible to hobbyists early on. In the 1920s, any group could launch its own local broadcast station.

    This openness resulted in a wide variety of broadcasting, with content limited only by the creativity of broadcasters. Some stations played jazz, for instance, while others focused on political issues.

    There was also a period of openness in film. In the early twentieth century, American film was controlled by the Edison company, a film cartel that held all the important patents on motion picture technology. By 1909, however, American film theaters started declaring themselves “independent,” and eventually broke up the Edison monopoly.

    By 1915, the film industry too opened up, which ushered in an era of creativity. Specialty films that spoke to particular groups or interests, about all sorts of subjects, proliferated.

    Want to see all full key ideas from The Master Switch?

    Key ideas in The Master Switch

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    Best quote from The Master Switch

    The closing [of the cycle] is driven by a hunger for quality and scale – the desire to improve, even the perfect medium and realize its full potential, which is limited by openness, for all its virtues.

    —Tim Wu
    example alt text

    About the Author

    Tim Wu is an author, policy advocate and law professor at Columbia University. He coined “network neutrality,” the principle that internet providers should treat all data on the internet equally. He's written for a number of publications, including Slate, The New Yorker, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Forbes.

    Who should read The Master Switch?

    • Anyone interested in technology
    • Anyone curious about the future of the internet
    • Anyone interested in economics or the information industries

    Categories with The Master Switch

    Books like The Master Switch

    People ❤️ Blinkist
    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    People also liked

    Start growing with Blinkist now
    26 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    Of Blinkist members create a better reading habit*
    *Based on survey data from Blinkist customers
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 5,500+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial