Wednesday, September 30, 2015
The Future of the Internet - And How to Stop It by Jonathan Zittrain
The Future of the Internet - And How to Stop It is, to me, a warning. The internet came about about because it had the element of generativity. Generativity is "a system's capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences." Basically, because people can add things to the internet, it grew so fast. But now, we're shifting away from generativity to what the author calls "sterile" appliances. The threat of viruses and bad code makes people like me go to closed systems (like Apple), where screening is involved and I'm pretty sure that the apps I download aren't malware.
But, this shift threatens the essence on which the internet is built. So how are we going to combat this? The book talked about the Verkeersbordvrij experiment, where removing traffic signals actually reduced accidents, and points to the success of wikipedia as a way that social pressures instead of legal means can be used to prevent bad information (and possible, bad software) from being spread.
To me, this seems to involve the belief that the majority of people are good and those intending to make mischief can be reigned in. But as the book itself points out, there is now a business model for viruses, and I'm pretty sure that spam mail and the scam emails are making someone money. I believe even the wikipedia model has some flaws - too little eyes on it, and it may just falter (I think there was the Saved by the Bell wiki, that had its content changed, right?). It may be that the generative element works only when the audience size within a certain range.
Or maybe I'm being unnecessarily cynical.
Maybe we can preserve the generative element that let the internet grow. After all, “generatively itself is, at its core, not a technology project. It is an education project, an exercise in intellect and community, the founding concepts of the universe.” It may be that the current and future generation of internet uses, the ones who grew up with the concept of the internet, are willing to be informed participants, who will demand the ability to mix and create new things out of the existing, who will use open-source software to its fullest potential. Things like fanvids (as insignificant as they seem) tell me that people taking a range of things and making something new from them.
Or they could be so used to apps that only the select few go beyond that to create apps and rewire parts of the internet.
Maybe, generativity will settle down to a more limited range in the future - we can mix and match and make things, but only using source data that is approved (or imported to the virtual world by ourselves). Would that strain of retained generativity be the real thing, or a false one, controlled by one of the larger tech companies?
I have no idea, but this book definitely gave me a lot of think about.
Now here's hoping I can write my book report.