Last Friday, Angela attended an event featuring her favorite LinkedIn Friend™ and overt geek-girl crush, Jonathan Zittrain, speaking about his new book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. Here, she shares her observations on Mr. Zittrain's predictions.
I'm fortunate to belong to an amazing organization called the Hollywood Hill, which was designed to promote social change through media. Its creator, Ariel Hauter, is dynamic and full of boundless energy, and he's making the less-than three-year-old organization a force to be reckoned with.
Last week, Jonathan Zittrain made his second appearance before the group. Jonathan has been described as the "most entertaining tech policy geek in the world," and he lives up to his reputation. This time, his presentation was more terse (we didn't get to hear about his favorite website, Cats that Look Like Hitler), but just as effective at raising the hairs on the back of your neck. Because Jonathan talks about the intersection between sharing and privacy, the gulf between "sterile" and "generative" technologies, and the rabbit hole represented by that gulf, which I refer to as "internet armegeddon."
The "generative" internet is that version of technology application that encourages the open sharing of development and information. The result is usually unanticipated change, otherwise known as "innovation." Innovation can be massively good -- online search, anyone?-- or sometimes bad: fraud and malware come to mind. When the generative internet produces something bad, it often triggers regulatory impulses that ostensibly protect us from trouble, but often have the unintended consequence of stifling innovation.
The "sterile" internet is the converse, and is often linked to "tethered" appliances, which contain only the functionality designated by their manufacturers, and which are often remotely updated by their manufacturers, as well. The most famous current example of a tethered appliance is the iPhone. Apple, the iPhone's manfacturer, notoriously updated the device's firmware last fall, turning many hacked iPhones into iBricks.
Now, I'm a huge Apple fan. I live in a household with three people and five Macs. But I didn't buy an iPhone on principal when Apple cut a deal with Google to stream only YouTube videos to the device. While I understand, and sometimes appreciate, Apple's devotion to their own walled garden, this time they trampled just a little too much on my desire for choice. I stuck to my Blackberry.
Jonathan tells a great story about differential pricing on the internet -- where your neighbor, who's a good Amazon customer, is charged less for a book than you are (because you just don't buy enough stuff from them!) While consumers generally appreciate this in the aggregate, they're less happy about it when it's applied to them personally. It's not illegal, and it's not necessarily unfair. The generative internet makes it possible. Should we regulate it simply because it makes us a little angry? And perhaps build a little shopping appliance that delivers only government-approved pricing?
I don't think so. I like the wild west of the web. I may feel differently about it if someone rips off my bank account number, but hey, I don't have any dough anyway. I think Jonathan's heading in the same direction, but I have to sit down and read his book on the subject. (I could download it to a Kindle, but it's a tethered appliance and I'm not sure it hasn't been censored.) The book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, is available at Amazon in all its old-school, papered-printed-bound glory. BTW, my copy's autographed. Try doing that with your Kindle.