Dr. Generative Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the iPhone
45 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2010
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: Suggested Citation