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Jonathan Zittrain is a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, Professor of Computer Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Vice Dean for Library and Information[…]

We can feel hints of change coming, Zittrain says.

Topic: Jonathan Zittrain on The Future of the Internet and How To Stop It

Jonathan Zittrain: It's been kicking around for about five or ten years, and part of what inspired me was the sense that the medium in which we swim, technologically speaking, is about to change. We can feel hints of that change coming, and so much of it has been with us for so long, that we don’t even notice it's there, even though a lot of what we love about the IT revolution is premised on it.

Question: What inspired you to write The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It?

Jonathan Zittrain: There were a couple key moments. I think everybody can remember one or two internet phenomena, or technological phenomena, that when they saw it demoed, they were like, "Wow, I want one," or, "This changes everything." In that sense, I remember the first time I saw TiVo. I remember the first time I saw Instant Messenger, as a desktop, mainstream app, rather than as a UNIX application running on a mainframe that very few people knew about. Each time I would see a different shoe drop with a new application, it would either reinforce in me the sense of, "Wow, you never know what the internet is going to produce next." I remember the first time I saw Napster in operation. I had been asked to have a view on Napster before I actually used it, and I had found out how it worked, and realized you could use it to exchange files and music and things like that. I though, you know, well, on the one hand, on the other hand. Then I saw it in operation and I was like, "This is so illegal. There's no way this thing is legal." So sometimes you see the new app and you say, "Wow, what kind of egg is the internet going to lay next? It's just like so unpredictable." And then sometimes you see a new application or a new technology, and you say, "Wow, who knew you could take something that had been fuzzy or rough and smooth it over and package it so brilliantly?" And Apple gives us a lot of those moments. The iPod where, to this day, there are people with regular old mp3 players who are like, "I don't see the big deal. I can spend half the money and get at least as much of the functionality, but it's not an iPod." And others, who say, "No, the iPod is what introduced those people to music in a portable way beyond the Walkman." And the iPhone and things like that. So in my own head, I think, I started to see some tension between the really spiffy, aesthetically pleasing, fully functional but not going to surprise you beyond the initial novelty appliance, on the one hand, and the more geeky, boxy, unpredictable chaotic internet and PC on the other hand.


Recorded on: 3/8/08