This week’s good read is Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser (Basic Books, 2008). This would be a beneficial book for parents, educators (including librarians), anyone who leads/counsels/mentors children or youth, policy makers, technology developers, and anyone interested in our interaction with digital (in particular, social) technology.
Palfrey and Gasser both are law professors with involvement in the study of interconnections between the internet and society. Together they have crafted an informative presentation of key issues and challenges faced by so-called “digital natives” (those born since circa 1980 who have grown up in contact with digital technology all their lives). To help set the distinction, the authors also refer to “digital immigrants” (those who knew a time before digital technology but adopted its use later in life). Generational terms can be loaded, difficult to define, and passionately debated. Regardless of how you feel about the terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants,” Palfrey and Gasser have at least given us a good starting point for engaging the issues.
Each chapter in Born Digital tackles a particular issue/topic, including Identities, Dossiers, Privacy, Safety, Creators, Pirates, Quality, Overload, Aggressors, Innovators, Learners, Activists, Synthesis. The book approaches these issues critically and with caution. And yet, the authors maintain an overall optimism.
One of the strengths of the book is its global reach. The research behind Born Digital involved interviews with people from around the globe rather than being limited to those in North America.
The book is a direct result of a collaborative project called Digital Natives. We read on the project’s website:
“Digital Natives is an interdisciplinary collaboration of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and the Research Center for Information Law at the University of St. Gallen. Our aim is to understand and support young people as they grow up in a digital age. Within the project, we make use of a variety of methods to investigate a range of themes pertaining to young people and their use of technologies. Our outputs range from academic publications to hands-on legal, educational, and technological interventions.”
As a sidebar, a companion website–Digital Natives–provides access to a blog, wiki, content related to the book itself, and other social resources (such as links to their Twitter account, Facebook fan page, YouTube channel, and Delicious bookmarks). Unfortunately, much of the content has not been updated for quite a while. The Twitter and Facebook updates appear to reflect the most current activity (February 2010). At the very least, more recent posts on the blog would boost the continued value of the site.
“Digital natives” themselves may find the book geared more to an audience of “digital immigrants.” With that said, Born Digital is worth reading because it succeeds in addressing tough sociological issues of today and raising awareness of our interaction with digital technologies.