Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives
By John Palfrey and Urs Gasser
Reviewed by Shannon Roy, State Library
This is a book about the first generation of digital natives, the children who were born into and completely raised in the digital world.
The authors pursue lively discussions of issues, dilemmas, threats, opportunities and wonders presented by the online world. They rarely propose final solutions. They point out, reasonably enough, that the story has just started and that the impact on the digital natives, and from the digital natives, is just beginning to be felt.
The born digital generation is worth nurturing and they need help. But, in large part, they will have to shape their own solutions as they gain experience and leadership. Their parents, teachers and service providers are concerned about them, but often woefully unprepared to help.
The digital natives, and often digital immigrants as well, have problems with outdated, inappropriate or inaccurate information following them around. Neither the digital natives nor their parents fully realize the tremendous volume of personal information that accumulates in the online environment or the damage it can cause in the wrong hands. There may need to be new laws protecting privacy, once the dimensions of the problem are better understood.
At present, parents are usually far more concerned with safety. They worry about addiction, damaging material, cyberbullying, and dangerous enounters in the offline world. The authors take the problem seriously, but point out that patient, thoughtful education is usually a better option than zealous over-reaction that can drive children and teens to dangerous secrecy.
Massive information sharing is also the best option the authors have to offer when it comes to piracy. The digital natives are not evil, or even rebellious. They have been raised in a culture where accessible material is supposed to be free. They have not been effectively informed about either copyright law or the reasons behind it. The problems will diminish somewhat as companies learn to partner with customers in the online environment and as digital natives gain vested interest in their own creations.
Education has been one of the most stubborn problems in raising digital natives. Technology should be fully integrated into the schools, but not dominating their goals. Technology can best serve programs when the outcomes are thoughtfully planned and clearly stated. American education desperately needs teachers, principals and education specialists who are digital natives themselves. To Palfrey and Gasser, the most serious problem is the born digitals who are NOT developing sophisticated skills and are being marginalized as a result. Something must be done for these vulnerable students.
In the work world, digital immigrant managers need to focus on outcomes more than process. If the digital natives can get the work done effectively, they shouldn’t be forced into outdated, unnatural work habits. If they are having an adverse effect on customer service or the workplace, they need to understand its impact in the most practical terms. Never, even in the 1960s, was there a generation with less patience with meaningless rules.
Many of the most creative digital natives go into business for themselves. They represent an incredible richness for their changing society. They also pose a threat to traditional businesses, whose owners might be well advised to learn from them.
The born digitals are already addicts, aggressors, pirates, mentors, instructors, authors, artists, entrepreneurs, activists, innovators and problem solvers. Palfrey and Gasser point out that they are also unfinished. It will be fascinating to see the world they create, online and offline, as they mature.