iPhone “stifling innovation”
The rise of gadgets like the iPhone threaten to unravel the decades of innovation that helped to build the internet, an academic has warned.
Professor Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of internet governance and regulation at Oxford University, calls devices such as the iPhone, Xbox and BlackBerry sealed, “sterile” boxes that stifle creativity and turn consumers into passive users of technology.
Unlike home computers, new internet-enabled gadgets don’t lend themselves to the sort of tinkering and collaboration that leads to technological advances, he says.
The mix of gadgets, over-regulation and internet security fears could destroy the old system where mainstream technology could be “influenced, even revolutionised, out of left field”.
“I don’t want to see a two-tier world where only the experts can survive … and the non-experts are stuck between something they don’t understand and something that limits them,” says Zittrain.
Zittrain contrasts one of the first mass-produced home computers, the Apple II from the 1970s, with Apple’s latest gadget, the iPhone. He says the iPhone is typical of what he calls “tethered appliances”.
“They are appliances in that they are easy to use, while not easy to tinker with,” he says. “They are tethered because it is easy for their vendors to change them from afar, long after the devices have left warehouses and showrooms.”
They are a world away from the “generative internet”, a term Zittrain uses to describe the open, creative, innovative approach that helped build the internet.
There is still time to save the Internet, he believes, suggesting that society should resist more regulation and place its trust in fellow internet’s users. He argues that the success of Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia written and edited by its readers, shows how self-governance can work.
Internet users should see themselves as “netizens”, active participants in the online world rather than passive consumers.
“The community itself exercises a form of self-restraint and policing,” he argues. “You see it in Britain when you try to jump a queue, you see it on Wikipedia when a page is vandalised.
“The challenge to the technologists is to build technologies to let people of good faith help without having to devote their lives to it.”
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