Cato’s Kuznicki on Zittrain’s Overblown Fears

by on January 22, 2009 · 7 comments

Jason Kuznicki of the Cato Institute is asking some very sharp questions about Jonathan Zittrain’s book The Future of the Internet and How to Stop. He’s echoing a lot of the same concerns and criticisms I have raised here many times before about how overblown Zittrain’s fears are regarding the supposed death of digital generativity and online openness. Kuznicki argues:

First, the example he uses is far from perfect. The Internet abounds with descriptions of iPhone hacks, many of them well-documented and remarkably successful. The menacing control exists, but it’s often a paper tiger. And although Apple didn’t originally publish an iPhone software development kit, it does now. So which one is it? Is the iPhone still not hacky enough? Or should we find another, better example? But the hacking community delights in finding supposedly uncrackable devices, and in cracking them — often within days of release. Offhand, I can’t think of a single recently released Internet-enabled device that someone hasn’t hacked. (Another of Zittrain’s purported bad examples, the Xbox 360, supports an avid hacking community, albeit with far less support from Microsoft. It isn’t a community for everyone, but then, hacking isn’t for everyone. Neither is macrame.)

Second, it seems pretty obvious that there’s room, and demand, for both kinds of devices, relatively secure and relatively open. It’s not got to be an all-or-nothing proposition. It’s not like “the Internet” is ever only going to be one thing. We can’t expect every user of every new device to master the very steep learning curves entailed by the wide-open do-it-yourself user interfaces that Zittrain clearly favors.

Some products will sell to some markets because they are relatively secure, common-sense, and uniform. Other products will sell to other markets because they are open to change, because they require high-level knowledge, and because with that knowledge comes the power to extensively modify the device itself, often at your own risk. So much the better — let everyone take their choice.

Indeed, the very same person may want devices at opposite ends of the continuum. … We need not be afraid of any of this.

Amen. Read the whole thing. Zittrain’s book may be the most important of 2008, but his thesis is fatally flawed. Generativity is alive and well.

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