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

45 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2010

See all articles by Paul Ohm

Paul Ohm

Georgetown University Law Center

James Grimmelmann

Cornell Law School; Cornell Tech

Date Written: August 30, 2010


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.

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

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Ohm, Paul and Grimmelmann, James 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: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1681521

Paul Ohm

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States
202-662-9685 (Phone)

James Grimmelmann (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States

Cornell Tech ( email )

111 8th Avenue #302
New York, NY 10011
United States

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