It’s an honor to introduce Jonathan Zittrain and the participants in our online symposium on The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It. From tomorrow through Wednesday, we will be discussing Zittrain’s important book, which warns of a shift in the Internet’s trajectory from a wide-open Web of creative anarchy to a series of closed platforms that will curtail innovation. As Zittrain predicted, “tethered appliances” dominate our information ecosystem today. We increasingly trade generative technologies like PCs that permit experimentation for sterile, reliable appliances like mobile phones, video game consoles, and book readers that limit or forbid tinkering. Zittrain attributes this phenomenon to the unfortunate, yet now predictable, pathologies that generativity enables. Although generative technologies facilitate innovation, they permit the spread of spam, viruses, malware, and the like.
According to Zittrain, the Internet is at a crucial inflection point. Rather than sustaining the wide-open Web of creativity and disruption, the Internet may in time become a series of controlled networks that limit innovation and enable inappropriate governmental and corporate surveillance. Zittrain offers various strategies to forestall such scenarios, including tools to empower users to solve problems that drive users to sterile appliances and networks. Zittrain argues that our information ecology functions best with generative technology at its core.
The Future of the Internet raises a host of fascinating and timely questions. Is the future of the Internet indeed bleak? As this month’s cover story for Wired asks: is Zittrain’s dark future only likely in the “commercial content side” of the digital economy? Might a healthy balance of generative technologies and tethered appliances emerge, or is the move to appliancized networks a grab for control that will be difficult to shake? Will non-generative technologies impact our democratic commitments and cultural values? Should we remain committed to protecting generativity? Are there alternative strategies for preserving innovation besides the ones that Zittrain offers?
To consider these and other issues, we have invited an all-star cast of thinkers:
My co-bloggers will join this conversation as well. In a post in April 2009, co-blogger Deven Desai started our conversation about The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It. Since that time, the wild-fire adoption of tethered appliances, iPod applications, iTunes, and the like have shown just how prophetic and important Zittrain’s book is. We are excited for the discussion to begin.