Saving the Internet


Work data:

Type of work: Article (academic)


Information Society | Policy & Regulation


The Internet goose has laid countless golden eggs, along with a growing number of rotten ones. But it’s the rotten ones that now tempt commercial, governmental, and consumer interests to threaten the Internet’s uniquely creative power. The expediently selected, almost accidentally generative properties of the Internet--its technical openness, ease of access and mastery, and adaptability--have combined, especially when coupled with those of the PC, to produce an unsurpassed environment for innovative experimentation. Those same properties, however, also make the Internet hospitable to various forms of wickedness: hacking, porn, spam, fraud, theft, predation, and attacks on the network itself. As these undesirable phenomena proliferate, business, government, and many users find common cause for locking down Internet and PC architecture in the interests of security and order. PC and Internet security vulnerabilities are a legitimate menace. However, the most likely reactions--if they are not forestalled--will be at least as unfortunate as the security problems themselves. Consider the growing profusion of "tethered appliances"--devices whose functions cannot readily be altered by their owners (think TiVo). Such appliances take Internet innovations and wrap them up in a neat, easy-to-use package, which is good--but only if the Internet and PC can remain sufficiently in the center of the digital ecosystem to produce the next round of innovations and to generate competition. People buy these devices for their convenience or functionality and may appreciate the fact that they are safe to use (they limit the damage users can do through ignorance or carelessness). But the risk is that users, by migrating to such appliances, will unwittingly trade away the future benefits of generativity--a loss that will go unappreciated even as innovation tapers off.