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[berkman] Born Digital

John Palfrey and Urs Gasser are giving a talk to launch their new book, Born Digital, to be followed by a party . [I’m live blogging, getting things wrong, omitting important points, losing track, not spell checking…]

Urs begins by talking about the questions they’ve been asked as they’ve given interviews about the book. “Why did you write this book?” 1. “We’re researchers.” They’re interested in how the Internet is making structural changes that affect our lives. Those changes are most visible in the digital natives (people born after 1980 or so and have the skills to use digital tech). 2. “We’re teachers.” 3. “We’re parents.”

They also get asked, “Why did you write a book?” It aims to bridge a gap between those who are more or less familiar with digital tech.

They get asked how long it took to write the book, and what use they made of digital technologies. It took about 3.5 years to do the research for the book. The actual writing took about a year. Of course they did much of the research online. They used a wiki to assemble research. They used BaseCamp to share drafts. They opened drafts up to comments. “Writing a book in this digital age doesn’t have a clear starting point and may not have a clear end. It is the beginning of a conversation.”

JP talks about the argument of the book. It’s a “myth busting” book, he says. And it aims to show some of the great things digital natives are doing. The meta-myth is that digital natives is not a generation; it’s a population. For one thing, only a billion people are on the Net.

For DNs, what they write and post makes their multiple identities. They don’t distinguish between their digital and offline identities. They multi-task. They presume that the media they interact with is in a malleable, digital form. They download music using the filesharing services; if they download from iTunes, it’s because someone gave them a gift card. They create media and share it. (We should be teaching young people to work in teams, he says.) E.g., the Digital Natives logo came from a 15 yr old boy in England, via a contest. He points to couchsurfing as an example.

The issues people have about DNs: (1) Security. That’s the first thing parents worry about. But it is a myth that children are more in danger than they were ten years ago. There are fewer abductions than ten years ago, for example.

(2) Privacy: People do share a lot of info about themselves. And that is a concern. We are building up lots of information. No one has yet lived through a lifespan online, so we don’t know exactly what it will be like to have everything from your prenatal sonogram to your obituary available online. JP shows a video from a 17 yr old based on the privacy chapter in the book.

(3) Intellectual property: DNs tend not to have a good idea of what they are allowed do with what they’ve downloaded. He shows part 2 of “The Ballad of Zack McCune“.

(4) Information overload.

JP ends with a “positive outlook.” We should acknowledge the real problems, but also recognize the creativity, the engagement in democracy, the available knowledge and info…

JP ends by saying that the book is of course obsolete the moment it was published. So, join the continuing conversation. E.g.join the Digital Natives Facebook group or go to

Q: Is the book on Kindle? Online for free?
A: It is on Kindle. We didn’t have the marketing power to make it available for free. Parts are available for free.

Q: It’s a great book, but you got one thing wrong: Your call for a rollback of CDA Section 230. [That protects hosts from liability]
A: 230 plays a critical roll. We don’t want a rollback. But social networks ought to have the same level under tort liability. If a newspaper publishes a discriminatory housing ad, it’s liable. Craigslist ought to be similarly liable.
Q: But, how can YouTube carry all those videos and be liable for every one of them? And if Google can afford to do it, how can a small competitor?
A: I don’t think YouTube should be liable. I’m saying that related to kids’ safety, there shouldn’t be a difference between online and offline.
Q: But for startups, that’s death.
A: In Switzerland, you have to ask what would be reasonable steps taken by a provider. It’s hard to write it down in law, but it’d be wrong entirely to ignore it. We have to find a compromise.
A: What;’s the offline analogy to Facebook or MySpace? Day care? But there there’s an expectation of monitoring. And Craigslist isn’t publishing anything; it’s providing a forum for others to publish.
Q: The closest legal analogies are shopping malls where you can be a pamphleteer or someone owns it and can kick you out. The analogy is to public spaces, not to publishing. At Craigslist, a take-down system would work, rather than prohibiting the initial posting.

Q: As teachers, have you observed the effects of the digital experience on the way people think, write, or formulate arguments.
A: Each generation thinks things were better when they were younger. The way arguments are structured has changed. They tend to join bits of arguments together, sometimes in quite creative ways, rather going in strict serial order.
A: One of the key myths we were trying work through is whether this is a dumber generation (to cite the title of a recent book). Is it just different or is it worse? E.g., they don’t open a newspaper and read it cover to cover. They browse and sometimes do deep dives. As teachers, we have to acknowledge there are new ways to learn and think, but we also have to think about how to the new ways well. [not sure I got that last point right.] [Tags: ]

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