Nicholas Carr is high tech’s Captain Buzzkill — the go-to guy for bad news. A former executive editor of Harvard Business Review, he tossed a grenade under big-budget corporate computing with his 2004 polemic Does IT Matter? (Answer: Not really, because all companies have it in spades.) Carr’s new book, The Big Switch, targets the emerging “World Wide Computer” — dummy PCs tied to massive server farms way up in the data cloud. We asked Carr why he finds the future of computing so scary.
Wired: IBM founder Thomas J. Watson is quoted — possibly misquoted — as saying the world needs only five computers. Is it true?
Carr: The World Wide Web is becoming one vast, programmable machine. As NYU’s Clay Shirky likes to say, Watson was off by four.
Wired: When does the big switch from the desktop to the data cloud happen?
Carr: Most people are already there. Young people in particular spend way more time using so-called cloud apps — MySpace, Flickr, Gmail — than running old-fashioned programs on their hard drives. What’s amazing is that this shift from private to public software has happened without us even noticing it.