Book cover image of Techlash



Who Makes the Rules in the Digital Gilded Age?

Tom Wheeler
Release Date: October 15, 2023

Hailed by Publishers Weekly as “a potent primer on the need to rein in big tech” and Kirkus Reviews as “a rock-solid plan for controlling the tech giants,” readers will be energized by Tom Wheeler’s vision of digital governance.

An accessible and visionary book that connects the experiences of the late 19th century’s industrial Gilded Age with its echoes in the 21st century digital Gilded Age.

Hailed by Ken Burns as one of the foremost “explainers” of technology and its effect throughout history, Tom Wheeler now turns his gaze to the public impact of entrepreneurial innovation. In Techlash, he connects the experiences of the late 19th century’s industrial Gilded Age with its echoes in the 21st century digital Gilded Age. In both cases, technology innovation and the great wealth that it created ran up against the public interest and the rights of others. As with the industrial revolution and the Gilded Age that it created, new digital technology has changed commerce and culture, creating great wealth in the process, all while being essentially unsupervised.

Warning that today is not the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” some envision, Wheeler calls for a new era of public interest oversight that leaves behind industrial era regulatory ideas to embrace a new process of agile, supervised, and enforced code setting that protects consumers and competition while encouraging continued innovation. Wheeler combines insights from his experience at the highest echelons of business and government to create a compelling portrait of the need to balance entrepreneurial innovation with the public good.

Once again, Tom Wheeler makes sense out of the dizzying technological changes that often seem to initially befuddle and beset us before they come into sharper focus, a focus he brings to each page and each new idea. Wheeler understands in his bones that “what is past is prologue,” and so he correctly anchors the new in the context of what has taken place before. Ecclesiastes is always right: “There’s nothing new under the sun,” but it sometimes takes an original thinker to make clearer the “mess” in front of us. Bravo!
Ken Burns
Tom Wheeler's TECHLASH is an urgent and timely work of public service. For too long, the American people have been left to defend themselves against powerful tech companies that erode their privacy, addict their kids, and undermine our democracy. Wheeler's lucid and historically grounded book describes the utter inadequacy of our existing regulatory structure to defend the American people against technologies moving at the speed of light, and he makes a compelling case to stand up a new federal body to oversee digital platforms and defend the public interest -- just as we did for radio, air travel, and pharmaceuticals at previous moments in our history. If we choose to meet our moment, TECHLASH shows us the way.
Senator Michael Bennet
In this tour de force, Tom Wheeler not only unpacks the challenges that the new gilded age poses to consumer privacy, competition, truth, and trust but also highlights ways to safeguard them and us. An eye-opening guide to a more hopeful future!
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director, Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania