The rise of gadgets like the iPhone, Blackberry and Xbox threatens to unravel the decades of innovation that helped to build the Internet, a leading academic has warned in a new book.
Professor Jonathan Zittrain says the latest must-have devices are sealed, "sterile" boxes that stifle creativity and turn consumers into passive users of technology.
Unlike home computers, new Internet-enabled gadgets don't lend themselves to the sort of tinkering and collaboration that leads to technological advances, he says.
The mix of gadgets, over-regulation and Internet security fears could destroy the old system where mainstream technology could be "influenced, even revolutionized, out of left field."
"I don't want to see a two-tier world where only the experts can survive ... and the non-experts are stuck between something they don't understand and something that limits them," Zittrain said in an interview.
Zittrain, professor of Internet governance and regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University, says the Internet's simple, open architecture is key to its enormous success and also its flaws.
Amateur enthusiasts have come up with scores of new ideas by tinkering with the Internet on home computers. However, hackers have caused huge disruption by exploiting its loose structure.
Zittrain contrasts one of the first mass-produced home computers, the Apple II from the 1970s, with Apple's latest gadget, the iPhone. He says the iPhone is typical of what he calls "tethered appliances."