Fifteen Minutes: Surfing the Web with Prof. Zittrain
Not one but two enormous computer monitors buzz from the desk of Professor Jonathan Zittrain, executive director for the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School. Graduating from Harvard Law School in 1995, he now leads a law school seminar on "Internet and Society: Technologies and Politics of Control." In his class, as in his personal research, Zittrain studies the ways in which official regulation of the Internet might actually liberate net users more than the current lack of regulation.
As his PC plays a 300-song MP-3 shuffle in his Pound Hall office, Professor Zittrain swivels around in his chair and confesses: "I'm definitely a little wired."
Inviting FM to join him on a surfing safari, Zittrain talks about his habits while skipping from site to site. When asked the average time he's on the Internet a day he says, "It's easier to measure the time I'm not surfing." Doing a quick calculation in his head, he refrains from using the calculator on the tools function of the computer, and says, "I stay plugged in on average 70 percent of the time, including time spent sleeping."
In order to maintain the Berkman Center Web site, Zittrain must stay abreast of issues surrounding the intersection of law and cyberspace. Swiftly moving from site to site, unfettered by blinking advertisements tempting a click, Zittrain is a pro. When asked to describe his personal surfing technique, he laughs, "It's a take-no-prisoners style."
Accenting his statement with a click of the mouse, he continues, "If I don't see what I like right away, I move on. I'm not an endurance surfer; I'm a sprint surfer."
While he doesn't hang out in chat rooms now, Zittrain fills says, "I used to manage a chat room, but that was when I was the only 12-year-old in the room."
"I would just try and fit in--which was difficult because everyone else was much older than I was."
"Now, with AOL, everyone in chatrooms seems to be 12."
Elaborating on his early Internet start, Zittrain talks about his first time on the Internet, 17 years ago.
He remembers it vividly. "Logging on at 300 baud in 1982, when it cost $6-24 an hour." He laughs at our reaction. "Yeah, my parents were not happy with their credit card bill."
After his initial taste, Zittrain was hooked. Climbing through the ranks of Compuserve, as a teenager, he ran a forum in exchange for free connection. He still surfs for free with his email@example.com email address, but it doesn't mean as much anymore, he says, now that everyone at Harvard surfs for free with ethernet.
A frequent user of Amazon.com, Zittrain says "I pretty much get everything I need over the net."
Reading down the list of his bookmarks, he tells us about his favorite sites.
("There's cyberspots.com; spamcop.net; suntimes.com; efax.com; CNN.com; drudgereport.com") and his favorite search engines.
"Well. There's Altavista. And Yahoo... and Goto.com--I like them because they make their motives very clear. Whoever pays the most money on the Web gets the number one slot."
Clicking on their Web site, he laughs and says,"Goto.com gets the most openly crass business model award."
Addressing pornography on the Internet, Zittrain details a bit of history. "Pornography on the Internet all started with ASCII Art." ASCII art are the pictures often passed along in email forwards composed with only what's available on a keyboard, he explains. "They used periods, commas, dashes and question marks to draw. If you stood back far enough, you could get a decent picture."
Calling up a site that has several ASCII drawings, he stops on a depiction of the starship enterprise.
He laughs and says, "Aside from pornography, Star Trek is probably what most people use the Internet for."