by Jonathan Zittrain Print book
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excerpt from Science review   (2008-10-14)
Review from Science:
from the review,
This compelling book starkly presents an impending decision: essentially the choice (of grand social consequence) between two futures for the Internet and the information, computing, and communications ecosystem it has generated. Zittrain (a professor at Harvard Law School) contends that we are approaching rapidly the junction where a choice--really, a series of choices--must be made. ...
Zittrain's thesis is that although the Internet and personal computer are generative, both are at risk of becoming sterile. Paradoxically, the reason why both are at risk is their generativity. The very openness to unanticipated, unfiltered changes and innovation gives rise to the pressures for more controlled environments. ...
As such, for Zittrain the evolution of the Internet to a "network of control" and of personal computers to sterile appliances is underway. The former is seen in the current battle over network neutrality; the latter, in the proliferation of various "locked-down" end-user devices, which he calls "information appliances" (such as "mobile phones, video game consoles, TiVos, iPods, and BlackBerries"). Because consumers often are ill-equipped to deal with most of the harmful stuff--and, in fact, are often to blame because of "their own surfing or program installation choices"--they will increasingly look for gatekeeping, security, and regulation in the devices, technologies, and services they purchase. To better satisfy this demand and also enable devices to "call home" for updates, the appliances may be "tethered" to their suppliers by an Internet connection. This shift sterilizes the Internet and the personal computer, ostensibly at the consumer's request.
Yet Zittrain contends that even though sterilization might be responsive to consumer demand for a more stable and secure computing environment and prioritized services, it is undesirable. He offers three arguments to support this contention: The loss of generativity would affect innovation. Tethered appliances coupled with a network of control dramatically increase regulation of end-user behavior (by government and companies). And, based on his detailed discussion of Wikipedia, he suggests that generativity supports widespread participation and cooperation in cultural production and governance.
Read the <a href=" http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/321/5888/491">full review</a> in the journal in the journal Science.
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