The Shift from Generative to Tethered Appliances – are we ‘killing’ the Internet?

This week in BCM310 we looked at the ‘feudalisation’ of the Internet and how the rise of tethered appliances and censorship has led to the centralised control of networks – a direct threat to an open Internet.

Zittrain (2008) discusses the impact of tethered technologies on our digital freedom, defining them as those appliances that are centrally controlled. Information is ‘tethered’ between the appliance and the vendor and devices are unable to be changed by the end-user.  This is a direct contrast to our traditional understanding of technologies such as the PC as being ‘generative’ technologies, defined by their ‘openness to outside innovation’ (Zittrain 2008, pg 101) which allows for user-driven change.

Consumers have been shifting from generative to tethered technologies because of perceived security issues, including third-party codes (Zittrain 2008). We, as consumers, have flocked to these tethered appliances because we see them as being more secure. However, tethered appliances have their own security issues relating to regulatory intervention and the amount of information that vendors can collect through the information provided by users (Zittrich 2008).

I believe that the control that is being held by companies such as Apple and Facebook is concerning. Any threat to an open Internet is also a threat to innovation and therefore the future of our societal and technological development. An article in the Guardian (1 May 2008) suggests that devices such as the Apple iPhone are ‘killing the internet’ as they do not allow for user tweaking and modification which may actually improve the functioning of the device. They are, in fact, stifling the innovative behaviours that allowed their creation in the first place.

In conclusion, tethered devices are enabling censorship which threatens an open internet. Additionally, through denying user modification, they are suppressing the innovation which has been the reason for our technological advancement to date.

Ultimately, I agree with Zittrain: – we are ‘fleeing from freedom when the real solution lies in even more freedom’ (Burkeman 2008).

Do you agree?

Thanks for reading,



Zittrain, J 2008, ‘Tethered Appliances, Software as Service, and Perfect Enforcement’. In The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it, Yale University Press, New Haven, ppp.101-126

Burkeman, O 2008, ‘Are gadgets killing the internet?’, The Guardian, 1 May, accessed 1/5/2013 via

Image sourced from here.