Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives Paperback – Jun 22 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
In this critical but optimistic overview, academics Palfrey (of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society) and Gasser (of the Swiss U. of St. Gallen) share their concern about the legal and social ramifications of the Internet with regard to the generation of "Digital Natives" born after 1980. In a wide-ranging examination of "the future opportunities and challenges associated with the Internet as a social space," Palfrey and Gasser find most young people fail to recognize the vulnerability of their information-that internet posts are never really private-and suggest tactful parental and school oversight. They find a more serious problem in the failure of the U.S. to regulate data mining by search engines, which even now have the potential to create cradle-to-grave dossiers on individuals, including online medical and financial records; they compare the U.S. system with Europe's policies, which have put in place much more effective data protection. Parents and educators will benefit from Palfrey and Gasser's discussion of issues like safety, content control and illegal file sharing; with proper attention from them, the authors see a bright future for the Internet that should foster "global citizens" with a "spirit of innovation, entrepreneurship and caring for society at large."
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"The authors are knowledgeable but never pedantic...their studious, emphatic approach is both valid and reassuring, and their overarching point - let's think about these things now, rather than trying to fix them later - well taken." The Washington Post "A well-reasoned, thorough synthesis of some momentous, if familiar, ideas."--New ScientistSee all Product Description
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The first four chapters, "Identity," "Dossiers," "Privacy," and "Safety," deal with the relationship between digitized data and individual privacy. Chapter 4 deals with the mounting concern of abundant violent and sexual imagery. Digital natives are constantly reinventing and expanding the offline social sphere by creating profiles on social networking websites such as MySpace and Facebook. They tend to take greater risks by providing personal information on these sites as well as with other websites. What happens to personal information over time? Information may be secure but for how long? According to Palfrey and Gasser, the security of information is a mounting concern that can't be answered yet. In "Privacy," Palfrey and Gasser raise important questions concerning privacy. Everyday Digital Natives cede more and more information to various websites without any notion of what may done with the information at a later date. What are the ramifications of so much data being in the hands of other people? Is the definition of privacy changing permanently? Despite the first 3 chapters' cautionary tone Palfrey and Gasser do provide some hopeful examples. Digital Natives also have power to make changes by rallying together as they did when they formed the "Students against Facebook" group. This group (750,000 members) was able to get Facebook to alter its privacy settings. Collaborative action, like this one, is one of many the authors cite as a growing positive force. In "Safety" the authors turn their lens to the easily accessible violent and sexual content that permeates the web. Digital Natives and those that are a bit younger are increasing exposed to content they may not be ready to see. Good judgment and some parental controls may help, but according to the authors, a large portion of Digital Natives are developing a surprisingly mature attitude about the excess "noise" on the web.
The next three chapters, "Creators," and "Pirates," and "Quality," deal with the very free, creator heavy content that is both created and consumed by Digital Natives. Digital Natives are increasingly creating mash-ups, videos and other media on a large scale. The authors are very optimistic and encouraging in this regard. Never before has there been such a large scale collaborative movement to share and create.
Concerns are raised around the notion of artist property, but societal norms are ultimately to blame for copyright infringement as well as digital media theft (illegal downloading of music and movies). In the chapter "Quality," the authors discuss concerns with Digital Natives' consumption of information found on the web. There is so much information, how accurate is it? Are they able to detect the good from the bad? According to the authors, Digital Natives are making decisions based on information found on the web. From health concerns, to education how accurate and reliable is the information they are reading?
The following chapters "Overload," and "Aggressors," deal with the affects of information overload and violent imagery and gaming. The authors' main questions in "Overload" are what if any the affects of the massive stream of information on human cognition. Digital Natives are consuming more media in less time than earlier generations. According to the authors, the results are increased multi-tasking and shorter attention spans. The more information available the more likely a Digital Native may grow confused and have trouble making decisions. The authors end the chapter by citing the human ability to adapt to new technologies. In this regard, the web is no exception. The next chapter deals with the growing interest in violent video games and imagery that can be found on the web. Digital Natives are increasingly becoming active players in fantasy worlds online where they kill other players in brutal ways. The authors main concern is the repeated "trigger" of violent behavior brought on by this type of gaming. The repeated psychological exposure to violent gaming may manifest in real life.
The last three chapters "Innovators," "Learners," and "Activists," Deal with more optimistic content. Digital Natives are increasingly collaborating online and developing goods and services that can have huge paydays. Young entrepreneurs are creating innovative products online for a fraction of the start-up cost of earlier generations. How Digital Natives learn is in a state of flux. Multi-tasking is the norm as well as rapid "at a glance" consumption of information. What are the affects of this? Is it all negative or are Digital Natives still learning but just differently? The last chapter deals with the growing tendency of Digital Natives to collaborate online. Can online collaboration affect political change? The authors seem optimistic in this regard. Real-time collaboration online can help bring transparency to political actions, increasing the likely hood that destructive political acts are evaluated in a global context.
The book doesn't spend too much time dealing with one specific issue, but tries to cover a broad array of subject matter. This strategy helps create awareness in older generations and gives them enough information on a certain topic for them to delve further if and when needed.
Another strong point is the comparison of new adaptive behavior with older technological trends. In Chapter 8, the authors provide comparisons between industrialization and developing city life with information overload. This helps frame a growing concern in historical context, contributing to an optimistic interpretation of human ability to adapt to significant technological advances.
The book's tone is ultimately cautionary (especially the first three chapters) and may overwhelm an older, less tech savvy audience. However, the authors do try to balance the good with the bad and the book ultimately ends on a positive note. The real strength in the book is awareness. Some older generations just don't know where to start where their kids are concerned. This book provides enough examples to bring possibly overwhelming topics into a context that can be understood by those that find themselves somewhat powerless to help. Finally, there is enough information to dig deeper if those in a position to help find that they need to.
The term "Digital Natives" is used, generally, to refer to people born after 1980. The book Born Digital is about the issues surrounding Digital Natives and their intensive use of digital media and other digital technologies. Digital Natives were born into a world that was already pervasively digital. Assuming they were born into an advanced industrial economy - and are not otherwise at the low end of the participation or technological gap, Digital Natives did not transition from an analog world to a digital world as most of us have.
Born Digital is especially focused on the issues surrounding Digital Natives' intensive use of the Internet and online social networks (like Facebook and MySpace) and other digital tools and media they use on a daily basis (such as instant messaging, texting, online chat rooms, video games, YouTube, etc.). We are no longer living in an analog world. The world - especially as experienced from the viewpoint of children and young adults who have access to these technologies - is now - but more importantly has been for them since they were born - digital. They were born digital. We had better learn to understand this age group (or cohort) to deal with it effectively and to craft policies and incentives that maintain and foster the good aspects of these technologies (and their interaction with such technologies), while minimizing the risks Digital Natives are exposed to - or at least not arrest the positive aspects of their use and involvement with ill-suited policies based on fear and ill-informed policy choices.
The organization of Born Digital is excellent. It is organized tightly into coherent chapters dealing with a single overarching category or theme. Within each chapter, the authors elucidate some of the more pressing issues in each category or theme, and then provide specific guidance and suggestions to parents, teachers, lawmakers, librarians, etc.
Being an attorney who was deeply interested during and immediately after law school in what was called at the time "Internet law" and intellectual property issues implicated by activities on the Internet, only to lose interest after the dot-com bubble burst, this book has reignited my interest in studying the technical, social, and legal aspects of the Internet.
Born Digital has also spurred me to dive deeper and study in more depth social media and online social networks, as well as intellectual property law as applied to the increasingly digitized information environment or ecosphere. To this end, besides an excellent book covering Digital Natives and the issues they and we face in our roles as parents, teachers, lawmakers, librarians, and also simply as members of society, I also commend the authors for the excellent notes and bibliography. I look forward to reading some of the key works that the authors of Born Digital found most helpful in their research and analysis and exploring these issues further.
I have recommended Born Digital to my friends in the technology sphere as well as my friends who are parents and who have children who are at the age where they are beginning to use the Internet and other digital technologies (including, their use of cell phones, their playing of video games, etc.), intensively. I also highly recommend it to teachers, educators, counselors, librarians, law enforcement officers, lawmakers, policy-makers, or anyone interested these issues.
The main thesis Born Digital is that the passage from the analog paradigm to the digital paradigm is deeply transforming the way how digital natives are living. Such deep transformations are affecting their self perception and the way they interact with others and with the reality. In the book they analyze with great detail how the digital revolution is affecting so different aspects of live as education, privacy, creativity, the way as we manage information,...
Facing all this topics the authors have done two previous options that I consider significantly important. First of all, they want to avoid two extreme attitudes: apocalyptic and naïf. Avoiding an apocalyptic attitude they are able two let us know all the possibilities that the digital era is offering to the new generation. Avoiding a naïf approach they are able to stress some serious problems. Two good examples of this problems are the gap between digital natives and those from the same generation that don't have access to technologies as internet, and the problematic of multitasking and its impact on education or daily life. The second option that I would like to refer is what I consider the best intuition of Born Digital. In fact the authors defend that the attempt to understand our digital era must involve different actors, each one with his or her responsibilities. To explain this idea in a graphic way our actors created a diagram with several circles. In the inner circle are the digital native that are the most well situated to lead us through this world. After them we found friends and family, followed by educators, than companies and finally the state and the law. The advantageous of this choice is to call our attention that the options that we do about the world we are living should be shared. We are committed with our context and we can't be scared or alienated spectators that do nothing about what is happened.
Is fair to recognize that Born Digital is the result of a serious work of research. Palfrey and Gasser gave to their readers a significant and pertinent amount of dates about all the topics they analyze. I am particular amazed with all the problematic concerned with digital dossiers and how many information is possible to collect about each one of us searching on internet. Being aware about what is happened in the deep internet where several dates are saved and knowing that normal users don't know how to go there, is important to allowed us to do more conscious choices. This example gives me the opportunity to highlight one of the most significant goals of this book: made its readers more able to choose and more able to help digital natives being more conscious of the consequences of their options in terms of their relation with the digital world. In fact our relation with the world is never neutral. By action or omission we participate in the construction of our own culture. The importance given in the book to the critical thinking shows how deep is t Palfrey and Gasser's concern in this specific point.
After reading Born Digital I consider important to analyze some critical points of this book. Born digital seems to me an excessive pragmatic book. One of the concepts that I believe is influenced by this pragmatism is authors' idea of Media Literacy. In fact all consternations seem to be related with a practical use of some specific tools. The questions they do may be formulated like this: How to protect ourselves, how to produce, how to create, how to manage information. But literacy is not only about how to use a specific language. Using the Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire's definition, literacy is about reading the word and reading the world . The consequences are important: Media Literacy isn't about giving our students skills or contents that they will use in a neutral way. Media Literacy is about helping our students to be conscientious how using the new media and technology they are creating the world and how our perception of the world is transformed in a definitive way by technology. I recognize that the author give a significant importance to the dates from neuroscience. Those dates help us to realize how our perception is changing. But the authors option almost merely descriptive. In my opinion they fail to do a serious Ethic consideration of all these changes: what kind of world are we building and most important what kind of world we want to build?
Finally I would like to emphasize the absence of what I would like to call an anthropological concern. In fact, being so exhaustive in its descriptions and assuming important apprehensions and hopes, the book fails to do decisive questions. For instances, the first chapter is a real good description about the influences of digital age in the way how digital natives are building and managing there identities. But at the same time the book doesn't ask the deepest anthropological questions. What are the most genuine needs of the human being? How the digital age is affecting the way we search for this need. Is this new time affecting the way of love and the experience of being loved? Another good example is the chapter about violence. There John Palfrey and Urs Gasser do in a balanced way the analysis of the youth generation's violence reception through the new and the old media. They related in an appropriated way the consequences of that reception with the social and economic context. But, once more the fail to do same decisive questions: how we are the new generations learning to solve their inner a external conflicts, how they learn to lead with their own aggressively? What they are learning from the way adults (parents, educators) solve conflicts? Are their relations in School excessively based on competition? What are their fears? For all that one of the most important attitudes is our ability to dialogue with the digital natives. Born Digital is a good and serious dialogue with this generation, but we need to go deeper.
Diane C. Donovan
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