The Guardian this week published a review of Jonathan Zittrain’s book “The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It.” The journalist quotes Zittrain as saying
“unlike the internet itself, where creative chaos reigns, popular new devices such as the iPod and BlackBerry are “tethered appliances”, closed off to amateur tweaking, and modifiable, to a large extent, only by their manufacturers — and so they stifle the kind of innovation that enabled them to be created in the first place”
This apparently is going to kill the hive of creativity that gave birth to the Internet in the first place.
By contrast, this week’s Economist had an article about the increasing number of tinkerers building their own gadgets in which they profiled the recent Maker Faire in California which brought together makers, otherwise know as “All Kinds of People Making Amazing Things in Backyards, Garages, and Basements”, from around the world.
So given current trends, what does the future hold, more tinkering or less tinkering? If you read my earlier post on tinkering, you’ll know I’m pretty enthusiastic about the power and importance of taking things apart. While I have not read Zittrain’s book, it is hard not react fairly fundamentally against the notion that iPhones, Blackberries, and Xboxes are going to close down innovation on the Internet.
Innovation is fueled by ideas and iPhones and Blackberries facilitate the flow of those ideas. All those connected idea-generators, otherwise known as people, combined with increasingly inexpensive technology and inexpensive tools for manipulating technology mean that, far from being shut down, we are on a wave of innovation that is only going to grow in the coming years. Sure it would be great to take apart an iPhone or a Blackberry but closed is a business model too and a perfectly valid one. It won’t be long before someone comes along with an open iPhone which will push Steve Jobs and Apple to dream up something even cleverer.
Tinkerers and hackers only need to find a tiny opening in technology to begin taking it apart. Look at the Linksys WRT54GS which was designed as a closed, consumer commodity device but gave birth to an alternative operating system and a thriving community of wireless hackers around the world. Who would have expected a community to emerge around hacking Canon cameras.
I hope that Jonathan Zittrain has some convincing evidence to back up his assertion because from where I sit among snippets of open source code and various bits of consumer technology in varying states of assembly, the world seems full of innovation and full of opportunity. I have to agree with blogger Eric Berlin that Zittrain’s proposition seems preposterous. I also can’t resist mentioning his twitter post “Jonathan Zittrain is the new Andrew Keen.” 🙂