Review of The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It by

Book cover for The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It

This was a very fascinating book. Some of the technical language may be new to a reader who is not already knowledgeable on computers and networking. Beyond the vocabulary, however, the book is accessible to newcomers to the field. Zittrain writes with an open invitation to discuss, talking with the reader rather than lecturing the reader. He admits that he does not have all the answers to the rather large problems the Internet faces. On the other hand, unlike many alarmists, he at least tries to propose some sort of positive solution instead of simply throwing up his hands to say, "We're doomed."

Zittrain managed to pinpoint some concepts with which I was already familiar but for which I didn't have particular words. The major one is, of course, generativity. The other one was the procrastination principle--I operate on this, although I never named it such, and it's a pretty good name. So the book was worth reading for that alone. His perspectives on generativity, the procrastination principle, the Internet's development and future, etc., are interesting. He presents a concise history of the Internet's development. I found the historical anecdotes entertaining and informative, such as the one about how a Cap'n Crunch cereal whistle could be used to get free phone calls. These anecdotes provide insight into how the Internet came to be and how it works today.

The book makes me think too, and that's always good. I'd already been considering how "appliances" like the iPhone were affecting the Internet and our own freedom, so Zittrain provided a concurrent dialogue that helped me form my own opinions.

His conclusion is essentially a call-to-arms; his theme something similar to "Why Can't We Be Friends?" He proposes that through better education and the embrace of social, as well as technological, means of fighting spam, viruses, and malware, we can improve the Internet without entering a period of security lockdowns that kill the generativity he values so much. The cynical part of me isn't very hopeful. It's too much to ask of the average person to attempt to understand this nebulous thing we call "the PC." And any attempt to make the system simpler has the risk of killing generativity. We seem to be at an impasse!

So the future will arrive, and we will hopefully be better informed, if not wiser.


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