We are off on a family vacation on the east coast and so my posting may be intermittent. I thought I would leave you with a list of some of the books I’ve been reading lately. Needless to say, they all touch on some of the big issues we have been wrestling with lately.
The Bridge at the Edge of The World by James Speth. Speth is the Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and this is an ambitious effort to tackle (as the subtitle notes) “Capitalism, the Environment and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability”. Like many of our community, he believes that the unbridled pursuit of growth is leading us to a crisis that will either lead to “breakdown” or “collapse”. Breakdown can be managed and lead to positive changes. Collapse could lead to what he calls “Fortress World”, an authoritarian regime where the rich live in well protected enclaves and the poor in a Bladerunner like anarchy. Ultimately Speth is optimistic about our ability to avoid collapse, but its a close call.
From Counterculture to Cyberculture by Fred Turner. This is a rich social history of the world around Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Catalog and the beginnings of the Internet. Its full of great stories about the early digital utopians, their follies and their wonderful breakthroughs. For anyone who wants to understand the nature of innovation, this is essential reading.
The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It by Jonathan Zittran. Jonathan is an academic colleague who runs Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and is one of the most innovative thinkers in my field. He believes that the key to the Internet is that it is “generative”–i.e. it can be changed by anyone, anywhere. Wikipedia would be Exhibit A. The problem is that this freedom creates space for incredible innovation but is vulnerable to abuse from Spammers, viruses, invasions of privacy. One response would be to create a series of Walled Gardens, what he calls “appliancized lockdowns” like Tivo, X-Box and the I-Phone. He believes this would be a terrible mistake and instead we need to work harder to preserve the openness of the Internet while innovating to protect our privacy and security. This is an important issue that needs to be on the policy radar.