I'm catching up on some reading these days, and here is one interesting bit that I discovered through Ethan Zuckerman's blog: Jonathan Zittrain, one of the founders of the Berkman Center at Harvard, and now at Oxford, published an important paper a few months ago in the Harvard Law Review about "The generative Internet". In a nutshell, he suggests that the most important characteristic of the Internet is its generativity - the "capacity for unrelated and unaccredited audiences to build and distribute code and content through the Internet to its tens of millions of attached personal computers" (abstract - full PDF). The idea is that an interconnected network of multipurpose devices (computers) that can be programmed over and over (by downloading software) to execute tasks they were not originally programmed for is a typical generative grid, very conducive to innovation and creativity, to allow whoever to create and share content, etc.
Zittrain however also sees threats - in generativity itself, because the downloaded software isn't necessarily benign. Think viruses and other badware. If enough computer users have enough of malicious software that exploits the system's openness, he says, they may do one of two things: demand that the ability of programmers to create certain kinds of software be restricted (by policymakers), or gravitate towards less-generative devices, single-purpose appliances for example. In both case, the overall generativity of the system will be reduced. In response, Zittrain challenges two notions that are part of the accepted Internet wisdom: network neutrality, and open-source. Writes Ethan:
"What's important to him is the capacity for a programmer somewhere to write a piece of code for a system - open source or closed - and have other users adopt and use that technology. Zittrain suggests we judge technologies not on whether they're open or closed source, or whether they're network neutral in the strict sense of the term, but whether they they contribute to the overall generativity of the network (...) to the power of the Internet to enable creativity".