The PC and its user
In reading the first chapters of Jonathan Zittrain’s “The Future of the Intenet” some interesting ideas come to mind.
It is JZ’s argument so far into the book that the “generative” Internet is under threat from what he sees is a pull back to the days of the (dumb) appliance and the central server, when the user had to put up with whatever the manufacturer (TVs, radios, game consoles) or the service provider (CompuServe, AOL) chose to sell. He sees a tipping point when PC users are finally fed up with spam, viruses, malware and ID theft. A defining moment will then come, a kind of Internet 911, that pushes PC users to accept the change to secure appliances.
OK, so far so good. I see the point and it is a compelling one. But… JZ assumes that every user of a PC and the Internet wants to be an empowered generative user. Is that true?
I think, without further evidence to present at the moment, that the Internet user has become largely a consumer that uses the Internet for the “basics”: email, news, shopping, weather and the occasional video from YouTube. Is there really a need for a generative platform for the use of this services? Would the average Internet user not rather favor a standard “Net-appliance” for a really low price, that offers security and ease of use, instead of the souped-up PC with the many problems it comes with?
Or think of the users of developing countries or from certain demographics of the developed countries, where computer literacy is not the norm. This kind of user would also really benefit from a low cost easy to use appliance.
We should not judge what is best for the majority starting with the needs of a minority. I agree that the generative qualities of the Internet need to be preserved, But maybe this should happen not at the ends of the network or by preserving a PC business model that really does not help. We should think that the best way is by having the largest possible number of users connected (which in turn creates an incentive for companies to innovate). But we must realize that probably the vast majority of those user would favor an appliance over a PC. The PC is not where the generative Internet resides.
As I move forward into JZ argument I will update this post.