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

Article Source: Maryland Law Review, Vol. 69, No. 4, pg. 910, 2010
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This paper reviews Jonathan Zittrain's 2008 book, The Future of the Internet -- And How to Stop It


Policy Relevance:

Determining how and when a new technology will tend to generate more innovation involves the consideration of several complex factors.


Key Takeaways:
  • Jonathan Zittrain’s book The Future of the Internet offers a good description of the way that the openly accessible nature of the Internet has helped to generate innovation -- a feature he calls “generativity.”

    • He uses the iPhone as an example of a “closed” technology that threatens generativity.
    • The iPhone is actually very generative, but this supports Zittrain’s argument more than it undermines it, in underscoring the value of generativity.
    • The iPad underscores the value of generativity even further.

  • Sometimes, it can be hard to tell whether a technology will be generative or not.
    • Sometimes, a more closed system can generate innovation as well as or better than an open one.
    • Computers that come already assembled are less “open” that computers that consumers must build themselves out of disconnected parts; however the pre-assembled kind probably generates more innovation.
  • Generativity is not the only value worth preserving on the Internet; there are other values as well, which sometimes conflict with generativity. One of these is security from viruses and spyware.

  • Trying to make systems perfectly generative could be destructive to many systems that are “good enough.”

  • In setting policy, we should consider generativity of the Internet or the system as a whole, not the individual parts.



James Grimmelmann

About James Grimmelmann

James Grimmelmann is Professor of Law at Cornell Tech and Cornell Law School. He studies how the law governing the creation and use of computer software affects individual freedom and the distribution of wealth and power in society. As a lawyer and technologist, he helps these two groups understand each other by writing about copyright and digitization, the regulation of search engines, privacy on social networks, and other topics in computer and Internet law. He teaches courses in property, intellectual property, and Internet law.

Paul Ohm

About Paul Ohm

Paul Ohm is a Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center. He specializes in information privacy, computer crime law, intellectual property, and criminal procedure. He teaches courses in all of these topics and more and he serves as a faculty director for the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown. Through his scholarship and outreach, Professor Ohm is leading efforts to build new interdisciplinary bridges between law and computer science.