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Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives
Synopses & Reviews
The first generation of “digital natives” – children who were born into and raised in the digital world – are coming of age, and soon our world will be reshaped in their image. Our economy, our cultural life, even the shape of our family life will be forever transformed.
But who are these digital natives? How are they different from older generations – or “digital immigrants” – and what is the world they’re creating going to look like? In Born Digital, leading internet and technology experts John Palfrey and Urs Gasser offer a sociological portrait of this exotic tribe of young people who can seem, even to those merely a generation older, both extraordinarily sophisticated and strangely narrow.
Based on original research, Born Digital explores a broad range of issues, from the highly philosophical to the purely practical: What does identity mean for young people who have dozens of online profiles and avatars? Should we worry about privacy issues – or is privacy even a relevant concern for digital natives? How does the concept of safety translate into an increasingly virtual world? Is “stranger-danger” a real problem, or a red herring? What lies ahead – socially, professionally, and psychologically – for this generation?
A smart, practical guide to a brave new world and its complex inhabitants, Born Digital will be essential reading for parents, teachers, and the myriad of confused adults who want to understand the digital present – and shape the digital future.
"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.'" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Among the items credited with altering the world as we know it, the Internet falls somewhere between the invisible-yet-ubiquitous (dust, germs) and the explosive (guns, the Bomb). In "Born Digital" John Palfrey and Urs Gasser skip the origin stories and accept the transformative power of digital technology as a given. Their interest lies squarely with the consequences of living a wired life, especially... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) for those who have never known anything different. If this sounds like the setup for a collection of titillating, "Dateline"-ready headlines (Identity Theft! Gaming Addiction! Texting Under the Dinner Table!), the book does not bear out that impression. Palfrey and Gasser are so busy being measured and pragmatic that they omit the apocalyptic hand-wringing. Nor do they consider today's youth to be an alien breed of exhibitionists conducting every facet of their exhaustively documented lives via digital device. Instead, the authors — both affiliated with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School — explore topics ranging from the formation and exploitation of Internet identity to the creation, filtering and manipulation of information with an earnest blend of data, hypotheses and gentle hints. A central premise is that Digital Natives — a population defined by both post-Internet birthdates and privileged access to technology — make little distinction between the online and offline realms, virtual versus real. This is an unfamiliar mindset for many analog-era Digital Settlers (moderately savvy) or barely computer-literate Digital Immigrants (given to "lame jokes and warnings about urban myths that they still forward to large cc: lists"). The authors are optimistic about online culture, which they consider far more creative and participatory than previous media. Many of the evils attributed to social-networking sites or other technological platforms (e.g., bullying, stalking and the sharing of pornography) are not new, Palfrey and Gasser argue: "The Internet is just a new medium for old kinds of bad behavior." Of greater concern are Internet-specific issues, including security (not just of data but also of person, in light of the increasing reliance on tracking technology, webcams and itinerary-revealing blogs) and information overload. In the cautious manner of writers who are also academics, lawyers and fathers, Palfrey and Gasser suggest that any solution to these and related concerns, including digital piracy, online propaganda and hostile Facebook posts, should combine parental oversight, public education, corporate responsibility and, as a last resort, lawmaking. Their eagerness to exonerate technology leads to a few rhetorical missteps. The fact that violent media content and playground bullies predate the Internet doesn't erase what seem to be essential differences between first-person-shooter games online and the passive viewing of a bloody movie or the anonymous, around-the-clock hazing that is possible on the Web. Palfrey and Gasser acknowledge these distinctions but are too quick to let cyberculture off the hook. And although great works of art may yet originate online, it's a stretch to compare fan fiction and video mash-ups to Shakespeare just because both borrow from previous texts. Surely the Bard did more with his sources than those who are setting "Gossip Girl" clips to maudlin pop songs. "Born Digital" doesn't pretend to have all the answers; the authors are knowledgeable but never pedantic, especially in areas where research is pending. While Palfrey and Gasser can leave you longing for grandiloquent generalizations, or at least a buzzword or two ("semiotic democracy" lacks sexiness), their studious, empathic 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. Mixed with the broad consciousness-raising is specific advice for digitally challenged parents and teachers, on subjects from the judicious use of protective technology to the value of team-based, interactive (read: Wikipedia-esque) learning. For the Digital Natives who are not reading this formal review in a mainstream newspaper, its long sentences replete with capitalization and punctuation, let's hope someone will pass on the message to think before exposing yourself online in any of the myriad ways that you are far better qualified to enumerate than I. Should you stumble across this headline in your search results one day, you can also read the authors' blog — and add to their wiki — at digitalnative.org. Reviewed by Amanda Henry, who has written for National Public Radio, VH1 and the Tampa Tribune, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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Two leading experts explain the brave new world inhabited by digital natives”-the first generation born and raised completely wired
About the Author
John Palfrey is Clinical Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. He is a regular commentator on network news programs, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox News, NPR and BBC. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Urs Gasser is an associate professor of law at the University of St. Gallen, where he serves as the director of the Research Center for Information Law, as well as a faculty fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. He has published and edited, respectively, six books and has written over fifty articles in books, law reviews, and professional journals. He lives in St. Gallen, Switzerland.
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