Wu’s argument revolves around two claims: The information industries go through a predictable Cycle between open and closed structures, and “industry structure … determines the freedom of expression in the underlying medium.” If both these claims are correct, free expression is periodically destined to be crushed. But neither generalization stands up to close scrutiny.
If the Cycle is to be taken seriously, there needs to be a causal mechanism that produces oscillations between openness and closure. Unfortunately, Wu never provides one. At times he talks about the Cycle as an eternal aspect of all human history, as when he begins the final chapter with the wisdom of the 14th-century writer Luo Guanzhong: “An empire long united, must divide; an empire long divided, must unite. Thus it has ever been, and thus it will always be.” Elsewhere, Wu presents the Cycle as a phenomenon of capitalism, invoking Joseph Schumpeter on the role of entrepreneurs in bringing about bursts of innovation and “creative destruction.” In still other places he writes of the “exceptionalism” of the information industries, implying that something specific to them produces the Cycle.
Wu, alas, is probably misled by determinist claims about human life being governed by this or that law. There is no such law. Patterns, yes, and some are predictable. No pattern except decay and eventual death is a law.