This extraordinary book explains the engine that has catapulted the Internet from backwater to ubiquityand reveals that it is sputtering precisely because of its runaway success. With the unwitting help of its users, the generative Internet is on a path to a lockdown, ending its cycle of innovationand facilitating unsettling new kinds of control.
IPods, iPhones, Xboxes, and TiVos represent the first wave of Internet-centered products that can’t be easily modified by anyone except their vendors or selected partners. These “tethered appliances” have already been used in remarkable but little-known ways: car GPS systems have been reconfigured at the demand of law enforcement to eavesdrop on the occupants at all times, and digital video recorders have been ordered to self-destruct thanks to a lawsuit against the manufacturer thousands of miles away. New Web 2.0 platforms like Google mash-ups and Facebook are rightly toutedbut their applications can be similarly monitored and eliminated from a central source. As tethered appliances and applications eclipse the PC, the very nature of the Internetits “generativity,” or innovative characteris at risk.
The Internet’s current trajectory is one of lost opportunity. Its salvation, Zittrain argues, lies in the hands of its millions of users. Drawing on generative technologies like Wikipedia that have so far survived their own successes, this book shows how to develop new technologies and social structures that allow users to work creatively and collaboratively, participate in solutions, and become true “netizens.”
|Publisher:||Yale University Press|
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Jonathan L. Zittrain is the Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University and co-founder of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. He lives in Oxford, UK, and Cambridge, MA.
A conversation with Jonathan Zittrain
Q: You have a curious title to your book. Most people think the Internet is a good thing, so why try to stop it?
A: The Internet is a great thingand it's largely a historical accident that we have it at all. As late as the early 1990s, people in the know assumed that one of a handful of proprietary networks would be the network of the future. Those networks carefully groomed the content to be presented to people. The Internet came out of left field as an entity with no plan for content, no CEOnot even a main menu. PCs are similarly surprisingly successful. Unlike "information appliances" such as smart typewriters and word processors, the programs on a PC can come from anywhere. This has vaulted the PC into the front lines of business environments, not just homes. Unfortunately that's not how the future is shaping up. Our own choices, made in fear, are causing the most valuable features of our modern technology to slip away.
Q: You warn that the Internet, and the computers that sit on the ends of it, will become more like appliances if we aren’t careful. What do you mean by that?
A: Devices like Apple's iPhone are incredibly sophisticatedand flexible. But they can be programmed only by their vendors. That's very, very limitingand yet consumers will ask for that because it makes for a more consistent experience, and because our generative PC and Internet technologies are less and less useful due to spam, spyware, viruses, and other exploitations of their openness. We need to combat these exploitations in ways that don't sacrifice fundamental openness.
Q: Is it possible to have it both ways: to have a secure Internet that remains open to the possibilities you describe in your book?
A: Yes, and the book goes into detail about how we might thread this needle. If we fail, we return to the old models of consumer technology that we had already (and rightly) forgotten thanks to the Internet's success.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
On the one hand, this is mistitled. I kept waiting for the big explanation of how to stop the potentially bad future of the Internet, and the author never really delivered on that. It should have been called something like The Power of Generativity, and Why It's Worth Preserving, but that probably wouldn't have sold as many copies.That said, it's a good book that sets out a fair amount of historical perspective in illuminating contemporary issues, and it's worth a read. Just don't expect it to live up to the title.
Zittrain's book adresses the issue of how to maintain the cooperative, free, uncontrolled internet in an era where it ihas become very profitable to attack it with viruses, bots, spam and all the many things we look on as annoyances but which hav ehte capacity to force people into accepting tethered devices such as iphones and blackberries. Such a step will kill the innovation and creativity that engendered it from the beginnning by giving it over corporations and other interests. These interests will offer tightly controlled and unalterable interent experiences while preventing the "amateur tinkering which created most of the things we like.
Some good ideas, but probably twice as long as it needs to be.
Here is an author that has put a ton of data and thought into his argument that the internet is doomed to fail if we all keep buying Xbox's and iPhones. To some degree he is right. There are many more "closed" systems gaining more and more market shares. Though the book was already dated with Zittrain's blasting the iPhone for not being open to third party development. A fact that Jobs deleted with the release of the iPhone SDK in the Summer of 2008. Zittrain maintains that the internet is only successful because it was formed by thousands of people piggy-backing on each other's work and play. This chain of progress went unchecked by corporate interests and mainstream media. Mix that with some "wisdom of crowds" philosophy and viola, you have the internet. I have to say I agree with just about everything he had to say in the middle of his book. The last third or the 'solutions' section was good too, but not as realistic (or maybe fair is the word) in regards to businesses and corporate innovators. But it all made for great thinking and discussions. Zittrain does a good job of explaining "generative" properties and the usefulness of digital technology, in terms of duct tape and vodka. All easy to understand, but a bit long winded. The book would probably be better served if chopped in half. Hence the 3 out of 5 rating. He really makes sure the reader knows how important security features are. Almost every point he makes is drawn with an arrow pointing back to how much consumers treasure security. Which is indeed true and fully understood before you make it to page 100 (much less page 236). But an interesting read if you are at all interested in software or online development. Don't be afraid to skip around and skim parts of this one.
Zittrain differentiates tethered devices (like the BlackBerry charging on my desk) from generative devices (like the laptop on which I write these words). Argues that much of the innovation that led to the features of the Internet that we enjoy (and that makes it so useful is threatened by the centralization that we see happening (see Nicholas Carr).