The Attack of Captain Buzzkill and the Pancake People

Sounds like the name of a cheesy ’50s horror flick. But actually, it’s my nickname for the book I just finished, The Big Switch by Nick Carr.

I first mentioned him and the book in a post a couple weekends ago. I like my crazy title because Carr documents some futuristic doomsday scenarios that that are actually coming true in the Age of Google.

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Book Group: The Big Switch

Welcome to the first meeting of the Publicious Book Group. Take a seat anywhere. Coffee’s over there. Our first book is The Big Switch: Rewiring The World, From Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr. I saw it in with the new books at the library, and despite it’s aggressively undesigned cover, checked it out.

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I’ll read it over the next couple weeks, and post my thoughts back here. If anyone wants to join in and read along, or if you’ve already read The Big Switch, please comment and make this a conversation.

The Book

The book is about about the impending death of desktop computing, and the takeover of web apps. Seems quite relevant to publishing industry and the tools I talk about here. Just look at Photoshop Express, moving a big complicated app and the files it processes from a desktop machine to a hosted “data cloud.” Sure Px is to Photoshop CS3 as Fruity Pebbles is to the Honeymooners. (Stay with me, there.)

If Carr is right, some day in the not too distant future there won’t be a desktop version of Photoshop. We’ll have to subscribe to some level of Adobe Creative Suite Service to use it. I can see it now. “You have 500 Nationwide Photoshop Minutes Remaining on your account. To add minutes or brushes to your palette, press 1. To speak with a Prepress Expert, press 2…”

On the plus side, I imagine the History palette will include every keystroke I ever made. On the downside, I’ll probably only be able to afford the Cheap Bastard tier of services, and the “Blade Runner Enhance” filter will be grayed out.

The Big Switch also seems relevant to me personally, since at work I’ve just witnessed a transition where many skilled people and the machines they used left the building. That move would not have been possible before a Web-based workflow. And I get the sense that more and more of the apps I use at work will soon float off into the cloud. Maybe I will too.

The Author

I am arriving late to the Nicholas Carr party, just as I was late to the blogging party, but I think there’s still some Doritos left in the bowl. The man that Wired describes as “high tech’s Captain Buzzkill” set off a literary bomb in tech circles 4 years ago with the publication of Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage. Google Books has about 30 pages that you can peruse.

Guess he felt like the original title, IT Doesn’t Matter gave away the ending.
The basic premise was that IT’s importance is dwindling, since 1) everyone has it, and 2) it’s become so standardized, it’s a commodity, like water or electricity. You need IT to do business, but spending more won’t give you an edge over your competitors. And the best strategy is to be on the trailing, not leading edge of innovation.

With Chapter titles like “Vanishing Advantage”, and “Managing the Money Pit”, he wasn’t exactly cheering on the geeks. Needless to say, this ruffled the feathers of some rather large birds. The book managed to piss off Microsoft, HP, IBM, Intel, and every guy who ever plugged in an Ethernet cable at work. Entire conferences were devoted to de-bunking the book. So I guess the catering industry likes Carr.

Further Reading

Nick Carr’s blog

His regular old-fashioned website complete with drop-shadowed torn paper banner

And the inevitable, Does Nick Carr Matter?

Sometime when you’re you’re feeling especially meta, check out the Wikipedia article on Carr, which attempts to describe Carr’s description of itself and the rest of Web 2.0. Holy circularity Batman! I’m blogging about a Wikipedia entry about an author writing about blogging. It’s starting to feel like the scene in Being John Malkovitch, where Malokvitch takes a ride into his own head and everyone’s a Malkovitch Malkovitch Malkovitch.

Malkovitch!