Thursday, July 16, 2009

Born Digtal

This book by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser is one of the few on the subject of the Net Generation that is written by academics so I am hoping it will be more solidly grounded in research than most of the others. I have only just started reading it and so for the message is mixed. On the one hand, they use much of the usual net gen rhetoric: how fundamentally different this generation is from all others, how technologically literate net geners are...constantly connected, tremendously creative, how they relate to information differently etc. And of course, the huge impact this generation is going to have on just about everything:

"Digital Natives will move markets and transform industries, education and global politics. The changes they bring about as they move into the workforce could have an immensely positive effect on the world we live in."

But while it begins with the usual generational hype, the authors do raise some issues that aren't mentioned in most of the other popular books on the subject. For example, they highlight the fact that the digital native discourse is only relevant to a small segment of the world's population:

"The vast majority of young people born in the world today are not growing up as Digital Natives. There is a yawning participation gap between those who are Digital Natives and those who are the same age, but who are not learning about digital technologies and living their lives the same way. For billions of people around the world, the problems facing Digital Natives are mere abstractions."

However the fact that Palfrey and Gasser seem to uncritically accept the digital native/digital immigrant metaphor makes me wonder how seriously they will be about critiquing the hype. For as Henry Jenkins points out, the digital natives/immigrants metaphor:

"erases class boundaries in young people's access to and ability to participate in the new media landscape. The Digital Natives metaphor doesn't acknowledge either the digital divide (in young people's access to the technologies) or the participation gap (in young people's access to the social skills and cultural competencies needed to fully and meaningfully participate in the emerging digital culture.)"

More on Born Digital in future posts.


pupil said...

Mark, you might find John Palfrey's early blogpost here interesting: in it, he responds to critiques from Jenkins and boyd re "digital natives." -Seth (Berkman Center)

Mark Bullen said...

Thanks, I'll check that out.