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The Battle Lines Are Drawn

January 5, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It suggests two major philosophies at the core of the internet’s designers: “trust in your neighbor” and “procrastination.” Zittrain’s text explores how these two features have led to an open system or, as Zittrain suggests, a “generative technology” responsible for both positive and negative innovations. Due to the internet’s openness and lack of centralized control we have incredible openness that allows for both amazing innovation and threat.

Such a design feature is unique. Unlike the phone system which was largely closed, the internet and the PC (as Zittrain also explores) are two key pieces of contemporary technology created with an open-ended philosophy at play. This “open” status allows a user to make hardware and software changes as desired. These technologies differ from video game consoles or the IPhone, two hugely popular technological devices that are “closed” or protected from user adjustments. The effect of this distinction is a battle line of computing philosophy.

The school of “open”, whose lineup includes Google, Linux and Wikipedia urge a future composed of systems capable of major user control and a content world where material created by non-professionals is dominant. The school of “closed” includes Apple, major media companies and, it seems the FCC, argue for a more protective system of devices that cannot be changed by a user and protect major media companies whose work has largely been shared online for free. Protection is the driving force of the “closed” school of computing.

As we progress through the battle of “open” versus “closed” its important to remember that many companies waver between the philosophies and current stalwarts in both camps will likely shift between camps. In addition we have companies like Microsoft that products entrenched in different camps: the XBOX is a closed system while Windows allows users to create programs as desired. Exclusivity is not a requirement of this debate.

My interest is in the implication of this debate. As more users begin to utilize technology we will see a society closely connected to the internet and connected devices. Human connections will expand with the help of technology and through the web of connected devices and related utilities the day-to-day existence of human beings will be drastically altered. The final solution in the debate of “open” versus “closed” will  play a major role in perceiving how the future will unfold. The way we interact with technology, the material of popular culture and the function of the consumer in the technology industry will depend largely on the debate.

Never before has society entered a funnel of this sort. Technological development in previous generations has come as a gradual evolution. Unlike today’s system with two powerful players, the developments of the past spawned from monopolized networks that simplified use via monopolization and public limitation. No longer are we distanced from technology or limited by a government and corporate network more interested in establishing a product’s use. We now have a network of relative openness and a society largely saturated by electronic devices. In many senses this debate is coming after major adoption of the associated devices. There will be no creation of policy; instead an adjustment will be forced upon a public largely unaware of the debate taking place.

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