TELECOSM: How Infinite Bandwidth Will Revolutionize Our World by George Gilder

I seem to either really like books, or really dislike them. And this one falls into the dislike category. Maybe it’s because I’ve read it now in 2009, nearly 10 years after the book was written, with quite a bit of hindsight to help me along the way. Now that we’ve had not one, but two economic crashes to temper our way of thinking and life (2001 really was just an IT crash, but it is an IT book …) this book just seems silly now.

I’ll start with what I like about the book. Um, I got it for free. I don’t think I would have bought it when it was freshly published in 2000 or even now. It’s taken me this long to read it because I had so many other books piled up before it, it just didn’t seem important.

And what don’t I like? Where do I start? I don’t know if George Gilder really knows what the word “paradigm” means. Honestly, two, three or four times on a page is way often enough to see that annoying word. Once is enough, just.

The first section gives just a brief overview of the history of light, lasers and so on. Well, that’s okay, if a little evangelistic (which really sets the tone for the rest of the book.)

The second section goes over recent history and development of optical technology. It’s here that the book starts to slow down. Gilder writes from the point of view of knowing all the buzz words, and he probably understands the technology on a surface level, but his writing style seems to forget that we, the poor reader, aren’t familiar with all the nitty gritty. To be fair, he does put a glossary at the back so you can look up what a CDPD or a SONET is, but really do we need to know in the first place? In the introduction he does say we can skip bits we don’t want to read. (So, why read this book at all?)

By section three my brain was glossing over what I was reading and so, next we have section four, where I really started getting irritated with this book.

Section four is a glowing praise of the future of fibre, the speeds, the power and the glory of what the future will be. It’s really just a drippy love fest with the companies Gilder thinks are the saviours of the future. And the future will be …

Section 5 is where the book just gets freaky. Chapters 18 and 19 take the gushing praise into a new domain. I really started getting worried when Gilder started getting into an evangelistic zeal over the power and possibilities of the new economy powered by “light.” And it’s here that I just lost it. The idea of an unregulated, free market, free for all, run by the entrepreneurial companies that just want to provide us with better and better service just doesn’t cut the mustard these days. (Or even in 2001 when the first crash started.)

In the Afterward, Gilder mentions The Twenty Laws of the Telecosm. Such gems as “Television, high powered and low choice, will die.” Well, someone forgot to tell television.

In Appendix B, Gilder mentions nine companies that he thinks are stars of the new Telecosm. Three of the companies were involved with litigation by shareholders because of dodgy dealings, one was swallowed up by a competitor, one has filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, and three are doing okay. (But he did also mention other companies he likes in Appendix A, such as the wunderkid MCI Worldcom – remember them?)

So, all up it’s a feveristic, paradigmatic, evangelistic load of gush. Only read it if you get it for free.

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