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Why iPhone Sparks -- Not Stifles -- Creativity

A customer at an Apple store at Southpark Mall in Charlotte, N.C., examines the new Apple iPhone during the first day of sales for the device, Friday, June 29, 2007. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek).
Jason E. Miczek
A customer at an Apple store at Southpark Mall in Charlotte, N.C., examines the new Apple iPhone during the first day of sales for the device, Friday, June 29, 2007. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek).

What am I missing here?

That was the polite version of what went through my mind after reading Oxford University's professor Jonathan Zittrain wax philosophic about how the increasing adoption of Apple's iPhone, Research in Motion's Blackberry, and Microsoft's Xbox threaten to derail our very creativity.

And that's one of the great parts of the job I have: Read something from someone that intrigues you, challenges you, angers you, excites you, makes you happy or sad -- and you get to pick up the phone and talk to the person behind it. No matter who they are, where they live, or what they do.

And such will be the case on Closing Bell in the 4:00pm ET hour later today, Monday, when Prof. Zittrain will be on live with me and others to discuss his hypothesis.

It's a weird hypothesis to be sure: He claims that this new world order of sealed, "sterile" boxes stifle creativity and turn us all into merely passive users of technology; that this new crop of gadgets don't encourage the kinds of "tinkering" that led the two Steves to create Apple; that the computer and tech clubs of the 70s and 80s are extinct and with them has gone the Wild West days of technological innovation.

And, he posits, it's all led to a world where the so-called experts are the ones who control all innovation, while amateurs are "stuck between something they don't understand and something that limits them."

I couldn't disagree with him more. I would argue the complete opposite: that the Internet -- and particularly the iPhone -- has fostered one of the most creative eras in human history, for good and for bad, lending a voice to those who haven't had one; encouraging creative collaboration where it never -- and couldn't have -- existed before; and turning big chunks of the globe into electronic communities linking us in a way the telephone could only dream of.

And the advent of smart phones like iPhone or Blackberry let us link to all of this on the go, from virtually anywhere.

I would argue that while Zittrain longs for the day of cracking open a calculator and pulling out his soldering iron to re-design his own circuit boards, I'm watching hundreds of thousands of software developers download iPhone's Software Developer Kit to create what promises to be an incredibly rich library of applications.

I'm watching venture capitalist Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers pony up $100 million to encourage iPhone apps creativity from independent developers.

I'm watching Microsoft sponsor software developer "camps" with engineers from all over the world to create new and exciting programs that could eventually find their way into the marketplace.

Google is throwing billions of dollars worth of ideas against the wall to see what sticks.

Pacific Crest Securities thinks Amazon.com's new electronic book reader Kindle will generate $2.5 billion in revenue by 2012.

And the start-up world is alive and kicking: I'm seeing new and exciting companies capture our imaginations, like MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, iLike. It's not an accident that the concept of "social networking" is so white-hot right now. Social. Networking. The bedrock of the 'Net, and the building blocks of this new era of -- say it with me -- creativity!

Remember, the camera and film were supposed to eliminate painters and artists; the ATM was going to eliminate tellers and actually reduce banking fees; the telephone was going to eliminate the need for pen and paper. We all have these lofty ideas of what technology should and could do.

But the true lack of creativity here is suggesting that the Web, with all its potential, is somehow limiting. Maybe Zittrain needs to spend less time in the classroom, and more time surfing the 'Net. Try it. It's pretty cool.

Your thoughts?

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com

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