Tethered Devices=Unfair

In his first post of the year, Jonathan Zittrain wrote today about Amazon taking on the role of being both hardware maker and ISP with its Kindle 2 and questioning whether or not that would affect generativity. Kindle isn’t providing the actual net access- that’s being done by Sprint- but it is still being an information gatekeeper in the sense that it will decide which websites are free to access and which are not. Should this type of ISP be different from the term we use to label Comcast or Verizon?

It is amazing that Amazon is putting so much effort into keeping all of its doors closed, especially at a time where web access for mobile phones is so ubiquitous. It is only a matter a time before web access becomes universal for all mobile devices (that’s actually happened already in Korea- requiring content vendors to drastically change their business models) and more Web-based book-reading models pop up. The next big thing may be a site where people self-publish their books (it’s already a huge business in Japan).

But to go back to generativity. The problem about generativity is you can’t really perceive it as a problem if you’re the one using the savvy devices. You have to be the one not using them- and that is an issue because a lot of technological development caters to early adapters.

Last week, I overheard the most interesting conversation in the ladies’ locker room. A bunch of teenage girls were chatting about their iPods (a lot of shouting and ‘uh huh, nuh-uh‘s were involved). They were exchanging information about DRM-free music (though they didn’t use the term DRM), talked a boy who paid for his game (it’s way cooler than the other games, one girl said) and argued about features of the iPhone, which none of them owned. The most fascinating aspect of the conversation was about games, and how some were complaining that $5 for a game was too expensive, while others said that it was a fair price because games are more interactive than music.

One girl then pointed out that a lot of games are free for the iPhone. Although the girls didn’t quite understand the concept of iPhone apps accurately, their point was simple: why should people who pay big bucks for an iPhone get to download free games and those who own iPods don’t?

It was such a simple, yet mind-opening, shocking question, bringing me back to Jonathan’s argument about tethered devices. (Although in this case, Apple devices slightly evolved to allow more generativity making the iPhone less evil than the iPod.) The interesting aspect is that the girls didn’t have iPods because they opted for more simple interfaces and the security of the vendor. They chose the devices because they were cheaper, and this gave them less choices. “It’s sooo unfair,” one girl said.


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