Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Future of the Internet And How To Stop It-- Jonathan Zittrain-- Thoughts

The Future of the Internet And How To Stop It-- Jonathan Zittrain-- Thoughts

The Future of the Internet and How To Stop It by Jonathan Zittrain is about the difference between generative or open technologies and tethered or controlled technologies. The author takes the position that free and open generative technologies are the best technologies for the internet.

The central thesis is that there is a conflict between having an open, disruptive, creative, often unsafe internet versus having a tightly controlled, monitored, and surveilled internet. Various connotations come to mind freedom versus safety, open access versus closed access.

The book also traces the origins of the internet starting with the Hollerith punch card machine, going through the early telelphone system, to the modern personal computer. Jonathan Zittrain talks about how the internet was created by academics and other professionals. It was based on rough consensus. He quotes the saying, "No presidents, no kings, no voting."

There is an unwritten vision of two different internets, one where we access the internet from dumb terminals through a router to a fixed access point with high security, and another where we have very powerful personal computers with firewalls, cloud computers, and a policy of open access and freedom of use.

The book brings up many more questions than it answers. The writing is complex, at times confusing, and often deeply interesting.

Jonathan Zittrain views the generative internet as the best possible world. He uses Wikipedia as an example of a superb invention created by the free exchange of ideas. He points out that it is often inaccurate, subject to scurilous content, and cannot be cited as an authoritative source most of the time. Still, his description of how Wikipedia is self correcting and employs many mechanisms to protect its data is very interesting.

In contrast, he describes what would be called, the situation of perfect enforcement, where everything is under universal monitoring. Your cell phone listens to your calls, your computer tracks which websites you visit, camera phones watch everything you do on the street, your tivo lets everyone know what you are watching, and everything you buy is tagged with RFID (radio frequency identification.) You are not the only one being watched. You are watching the police and bureaucrats with camcorders (a la Rodney King), reporting on your local politicians in blogs, and watching the police and bureacrats. In other words a totally monitored society. This is a very real potential future.

The author is arguing this may not just come about because of a police state, but because everything we do will become copyrightable media. This includes videos we place on youtube, personal songs, things downloaded from Ipods. There are already "black networks" of copyright infringers who share illegal downloads.

The book is very interesting. It is well worth reading. It will expand your horizons on issues that have to do with the internet. I enjoyed reading it a lot. I support the idea of a generative internet.

I personally don't like cell phones, ipods, and other tethered devices like xboxes which tie directly into large companies like Apple Computer, Sprint, and Microsoft. I do really enjoy my personal computer and would like to be able to be as creative as possible with it. I also like web suring and blogging as you can tell. Read this, it will keep you informed.

No comments: