Zittrain’s Zen Negations at the Ritz

05.11.08 | Category: Unexpected, Zen Law

Jonathan Zittrain interviewed by Drue Kataoka and Bill Fenwick

“If you want to be at the heart of the intellectual universe, come to Stanford,” said Stanford Law School Dean, Larry Kramer, introducing Jonathan Zittrain to a pumped-up pro-Stanford audience at the Ritz Carlton, San Francisco. This book-signing event was organized by Dean Kramer and Stanford Law School in an effort to recruit the Oxford professor and internationally-known cyberlaw scholar to the Farm. View PHOTOS from Zittrain’s event HERE.
“There is no place like Stanford Law School,” Zittrain agreed and began his talk centering on his latest book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. Flanked by giant digital images from the book, Zittrain described the magic of the early Internet with a series of resounding “No’s.”

  • “No Main menu.
  • No investment in content.
  • No partnerships.
  • No CEO.
  • No business plan.
  • No subscribers.”

The absence of those things, he claimed, is what made the early Internet so successful and gave it the winning edge over centralized proprietary networks like Prodigy.

Judge Vaughn Walker, Bill Fenwick, Drue Kataoka and Gordy Davidson

In Zen something is valued not only in terms of its presence but also more importantly in terms of its absence. By ensuring the absence of these elements, the early Framers of the Internet unleashed its true potential into the world.

The current threat to today’s Internet comes from the opposite of the early Internet’s principles and the reassertion of:

  • Structured environments.
  • Proprietary content.
  • Negotiated partnerships.
  • People with MBAs.
  • Profit making.
  • Privacy violations by business and government.
  • Malevolent software.

Fortunately, people like Craig Newmark are holding the banner of the early Internet high. “Then there’s this guy Craig,” Zittrain said, “and he comes up with his List.” The audience erupted in applause.

ValleyZen spoke with Craig before Zittrain’s presentation. To attend the event Craig had flown all night from New York where he had just walked the red carpet under paparazzi glare for the Time 100’s Most Influential People gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Sporting an Obama pin, he told Drue, “I talked with John McCain and Tina Fey.”

“I saw some bad customer service the other day and I thought of you, Craig,” said Drue. “Where is Craig to fly out of the sky and land with a cape–obliterating bad customer service?”

“That would be a good summer movie,” said Craig.

ValleyZen was the only media filming the event. Bill Fenwick and Drue Kataoka did an exclusive interview with Jonathan Zittrain after the event. Stay tuned as we will post his interview this coming week.

Bill Fenwick and Drue Kataoka
Bill Fenwick & Drue Kataoka

6 Comments so far

  1. Jennifer Fan

    Great coverage on an interesting topic.

  2. Michael F. Martin

    Great post and great event!

    One observation: it is important not to become to focussed on what may be a false dichotomy between freedom and restraint, creativity and industry. Great artists and inventors are in agreement that restraint in the form of voluntary precommitment to cooperation or forbearance from use of particular resources can lead to more artistic creativity and invention. I suspect there may be a zen principle in accord with this notion.

    In particular, I have been working out a theory (which I believe Charlie Munger deserves credit for originating) of how public and private organizations within society can be understood as spontaneously self-assembled institutions given the constraints of capital and opportunity costs of particular political and economic environments. The image is of institutions as ice crystals that can freeze or melt in a variety of local environments, from the cube in your drink to the clouds in the sky on a hot summer day.


  3. Larry Chiang

    @Jennifer Fan nice to see you via a great blog post and I agree 110% with your comments

    My rough rough notes composed via pda
    Pwr point corrupts absolutely
    Green ordinance.
    Sticker says come near me and soe
    Friden Flexowriter. Do mail merge easier than Office
    Bought by Burrows. Brothers

    3 – vin Cerf. Didn’t have to worry about money
    Endpoints can be the network
    Best efforts routing
    Send it and pray
    Hourglass architecture

    Kill the two guys

    @KatrinaH @mashable @owenthomas on
    @jamesBuck is on Zittrains Pwr Point too
    Blogs gone more banal
    Coach surfing dot com
    Its a social movement
    Cats that look like hitler dot com

  4. Vlasta Diamant

    Freedom & the Internet
    We all submit to check-ups at the air-port since we want to arrive at our destinations safely. Internet has become a must-have for millions, and since like with every communication medium there are spoilers with impunity, free-spirits have to admit the necessity of a minimal control over the medium, i.e. traceability of the originator: URL or e-mail address. The argument that the government could use this info: government can trace anybody anywhere if they want to, anyway! So freedom-purists criticize your bosses for an exercise in the freedom of expression!

  5. Angus Blackwood

    One more “no”:

    No “Tiered Internet”… Nuff said.

  6. Vlasta Diamant

    I love the tolerant sound of that “Nuff said”. As we know, neither I nor the “Nuff” debater will decide or influence the future of the Internet. But it seems to me, that an overwhelming majority of Internet and communication device
    users, are not concerned about the systems staying ‘open’ to programmers’ add ons etc. The average user is very much concerned with the safety, reliability – and yes, privacy
    guaranteed by ‘closed’ systems, like I-Phone. Let the Computer technology wizzes design their own, completely new systems, if
    program and alter they must!

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