Dr. Generative or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the iPhone

Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing, Networks and Infrastructure, Wireless and Net Neutrality

Article Snapshot


James Grimmelmann and Paul Ohm


Maryland Law Review, Vol. 69, No. 4, pg. 910, 2010


This paper reviews Jonathan Zittrain's 2008 book, The Future of the Internet -- And How to Stop It

Policy Relevance

Determining how and when a new technology will tend to generate more innovation involves the consideration of several complex factors.

Main Points

  • Jonathan Zittrain’s book The Future of the Internet offers a good description of the way that the openly accessible nature of the Internet has helped to generate innovation -- a feature he calls “generativity.”

    • He uses the iPhone as an example of a “closed” technology that threatens generativity.
    • The iPhone is actually very generative, but this supports Zittrain’s argument more than it undermines it, in underscoring the value of generativity.
    • The iPad underscores the value of generativity even further.
  • Sometimes, it can be hard to tell whether a technology will be generative or not.


    • Sometimes, a more closed system can generate innovation as well as or better than an open one.
    • Computers that come already assembled are less “open” that computers that consumers must build themselves out of disconnected parts; however the pre-assembled kind probably generates more innovation.
  • Generativity is not the only value worth preserving on the Internet; there are other values as well, which sometimes conflict with generativity. One of these is security from viruses and spyware.
  • Trying to make systems perfectly generative could be destructive to many systems that are “good enough.”
  • In setting policy, we should consider generativity of the Internet or the system as a whole, not the individual parts.

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