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Dr. Generative Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the iPhone


Paul Ohm


University of Colorado Law School

James Grimmelmann


University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

August 30, 2010

Maryland Law Review, Vol. 69, p. 910, 2010
NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10/11 #8

Abstract:     
In The Future of the Internet - And How to Stop It, Jonathan Zittrain argues that the Internet has succeeded because it is uniquely "generative": individuals can use it in ways its creators never imagined. This Book Review uses the Apple II and the iPhone - the hero and the villain of the story as Zittrain tells it - to show both the strengths and the weaknesses of his argument. Descriptively and normatively, Zittrain has nailed it. Generativity elegantly combines prior theories into a succinct explanation of the technical characteristics that make the Internet what it is, and the book offers a strong argument that preserving generativity is vital for the sake of future innovation and creativity.

Unfortunately, while Zittrain calls for compromises to preserve generativity, he doesn't provide a roadmap for distinguishing good compromises from bad. These tradeoffs, however, are essental. Restricting generativity in one place (for example, by building computers with fixed circuit boards rather than a tangle of reconfigurable wires) can massively enhance generativity overall (by making computers cheap and usable enough that everyone can tinker with their software). We use this obervation to offer a series of corollaries to aid policymakers and system designers in optimizing generativity in the real world: Generativity is only one value among many, generativity is never absolute, and generativity is a systemic property, not a local one.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 45

Keywords: Generativity, Internet, Zittrain, Future of the Internet, Architecture, iPhone, Apple II

JEL Classification: K00

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Date posted: September 24, 2010  

Suggested Citation

Ohm, Paul and Grimmelmann, James, Dr. Generative Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the iPhone (August 30, 2010). Maryland Law Review, Vol. 69, p. 910, 2010; NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10/11 #8. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1681521

Contact Information

Paul Ohm
University of Colorado Law School ( email )
401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States
303-492-0384 (Phone)
303-492-1200 (Fax)
James Grimmelmann (Contact Author)
University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law ( email )
500 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201-1786
United States
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