The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it by Jonathan Zittrain Penguin, HK$320 Few would disagree that the internet has had a tremendous influence on the way people work, play and otherwise behave. This came from the convergence of two radically different technologies. First came the creation of the internet itself in the 1960s. It was designed in such a way that the destruction of any part of it would not bring it down. If an electrical failure or a nuclear bomb - remember this was all done at the height of the cold war - destroyed a node in Dallas, for example, messages and connections would be automatically redirected and eventually arrive at their destination. Over time, this became a tool for scholars to use to communicate with each other. A little more than 10 years later, the personal computer revolution began. By the 1990s, these two movements had merged and, with the help of the World Wide Web, the explosion of the internet was set. In The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it, Jonathan Zittrain calls attention to two conflicting ways to deal with these technologies: he calls one generative and the other tethered. Generative technologies are those of the original Apple II and other computers that sometimes had to be soldered together by the user. They allowed you to program them to do whatever your creative abilities would allow, provided you could accomplish that within the limitations of the technology. A tethered device is one like Apple's tremendously successful iPhone that cannot so easily be 'tweaked': only the manufacturer can make serious changes. To Zittrain, generative is good and the way the world once was; tethered is bad and it is the direction in which we are heading. But if modern technologies are cramping the creativity of the Net and technology, a great many people are hardly likely to care. Those of us who saw all this at the beginning will remember when the Net was not commercial, when there was no spam, scam, virus or porn. To a lot of people who have only come online in the past 10 years - and that is hundreds of millions - the Net is a tool or a place to do work or have fun. Some would even say that without the porn it would not be worth the price of the CPU. Those of us who have dirtied our hands writing code will understand Zittrain all too well. A somewhat chaotic, uncontrolled technology is good for encouraging creativity, particularly at the beginning. The world of the 1970s was full of many computer companies, lots of operating systems and different kinds of software - and it was truly exciting. The IBM PC changed all that, although the PC still retained its ability to be programmed and 'fiddled with' despite the monopoly of Microsoft and Intel. That is all changing. With the iPhone, TiVo and other devices connected to the internet but managed by the companies that make them, we have entered an era of tethered appliances controlled by others. One of the main reasons for this is the rise in what is called 'malware', or software-like viruses, worms and other bits of code intended to harm computers or steal data. Tethered devices are far safer than generative ones. Much of what Zittrain says is true but I wonder how many readers want to create their own internet browser or word processor. It is surely a good thing that anybody with the desire and only a little bit of money can begin to program a computer and possibly change the world - it has happened many times. But does everybody have to do that? One of the best things about the Apple Macintosh when it appeared was what Steve Jobs, Apple's then CEO, had to say: it was 'the computer for the rest of us'. Before the Mac, computers were for the most part tech toys for boys. The Mac allowed artists, writers and many others to begin to use a computer. The internet has done even more. Zittrain's book touches on many aspects of the two revolutions of the Net and the PC and even looks at education in the final chapter. He is right to be concerned about creativity but somehow I am sure people will be able to be creative no matter what the underlying systems may be. Apple's attempt to 'close' the iPhone has been a wonderful test of what Chinese and European engineers can accomplish (they have broken it with ease). Zittrain may well be right to be concerned about tethered appliances, but most people would probably be quite happy if what they used simply worked.