As previously mentioned, Carr wrote a second book entitled The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing How we Think, Read, and Remember. Not just our brains, but the very fabric of our lives, from day-to-day relationships, casual communications as well as deepest and most heartfelt discussions, how we've been propelled into the age of surveillance, and finally, the focus of this post: economics.
"How boring!" you say.
Ah, but not! Carr likens the Age of the Internet circa 2012 to the Age of Serfdom in which wealthy landowners rented out plots of land to peasant farmers ostensibly for the purpose of providing them a good living as well as food on their tables. In truth, history documents the rise of the class system with the poor growing increasingly poor as the Lord of the Manor takes increasingly greedy shares of the crops while slowly upping the rents.
Fast forward to 2012, we're well into the Information Age with the internet being its catalyst, growing so rapidly that students who begin college to study internet technologies are faced with new curricula 2-3 times each semester. Essentially, these students are ready for "continuing education" just a couple months after graduation. One of the latest innovations is "cloud" technology wherein resides all you might ever need to know or software you ever need to use, or storage space for your songs and photos and literary creations -- all of it residing somewhere up there in the ether as opposed to on your own computer. This amounts to an "expert" always on hand to update your software, file your photos, or lend you the latest and greatest technologies and tools. All you have to do is access the "cloud" when you, the consumer, need to retrieve one of your photos, listen to a song, design a graphic, or even write a letter. The catch is this: like the Lord of the Manor, the internet entrepreneurs hold your tools in their hands (and in the case of photos, they hold your work!). "Cloud" pricing can rise on a whim or upon the sale of a "cloud company" to another cloud company. Moreover, cloud access is controlled by your ISP involving yet another fee, content is monitored and "surveilled" for offensive keywords (primarily by the Justice Department looking for the o so elusive enemy du jour), and content may or may NOT be yours after all. Twitter is currently involved in a court dispute with the Justice Department over who owns the words written by one of its users. Read about it here. Copyright issues are only beginning to be explored and challenged in court, but in the meantime, it's quite logical to believe that you may not be able to access your work for a period of time, and you may end up not owning it all. Needless to say, the ownership issue is an additional economic consideration as the Information Age continues to evolve.
So the cloud phenomenon is turning computer access into a utility company. The user has plenty of liberties, but a blackout could occur at any time.
It's perhaps a bit too early to judge the accuracy of Carr's thesis when it comes to the economics of cloud technology, but suffice it to say, he's nailed it on his other observations about how the internet is changing us, The change in our methods and depth of our communications as well as our ability to retain what we read has been scientifically documented, and let's face it - is fairly obvious to anyone who's already done a fair bit of communicating offline in their lifetime. Babies born today, however, may not ever learn the art of letter-writing by hand or figure out that their face-to-face communications are going to do more for their social skills than any social network could ever do. And who knows? Maybe their kids won't actually ever own their work but become part of a Gattaca in the making. This should give us all something to think about as we ponder the clouds.