Digital pebbles

Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

The Big Switch – the debate

Posted by Emily on March 20, 2008

On Monday 10th March I attended my first Innovation Reading Circle. The book that we were all there to discuss was The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr. The name may ring a bell as this is the man who wrote Does IT Matter? – a book which did not make him many friends in the world of IT.

As both the discussion and the wine began to flow some interesting points were raised. In very simple terms, the book discusses Carr’s belief that the PC is soon to become extinct. Instead of every single user having to purchase PCs, software, servers, data storage security and all the other bells and whistles, these can be outsourced and provided over the internet.

Carr likens this to the introduction of electricity to the US. Before electricity, everyone who needed power had to generate it themselves onsite, then (eventually) a centralised grid came along and changed everything, especially costs. The same is proposed to happen in this new IT revolution.

Companies such as Amazon and Salesforce.com are already offering what is effectively offsite hardware and software to rent. This eliminates the need to purchase and maintain such systems yourself.

Outsourcing practices seem like a logical step to take. The benefits of reduced costs, reduced space required and more choice and availability of IT systems are tangible to a company of any size. Imagine how wonderful it would be to never again have to call an IT guy to lean over you at your computer for 20 minutes before telling you to try turning it off and on again.

This idea can (and probably will) bring down giants. I speak, of course, of Microsoft. With no demand for expensive, individual software packages for very nearly every office in the world, how will Microsoft make any money? They will have to adapt in a changing market that will ultimately undermine the very nature of their business. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that is a sad thing or not.

Interestingly, in contrast to Carr’s first book, there was very little controversy. Rarely was there a raised voice or vociferous debate amongst the Circle. Perhaps Carr is losing his touch, or perhaps he has already got everyone’s attention and is now ready to offer up what he really has to say. Either way, the book steers you in a direction that is both interesting and logical.

Although lacking potency at times and neglecting to give a conclusion to satisfy the reader, the general thread of the book is highly relevant. It was enough to make our Reading Circle go on well past 9pm and on a Monday night that is quite an achievement.

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