Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives

As previously mentioned, this is a great place to start understanding the world of Web 2.0 and social media, especially if you were born before 1980. Authors John Palfrey and Urs Gasser chronicle and interview members of the generation born after that year to effectively demonstrate not only how they grew up with the Internet and helped change it, but also how it changed them.For the older generations: remember going to the mall, video arcade, or even to drive-ins in order to socialize? Well, this group went somewhere called the Internet to not only meet friends, but also establish their own identities. The online world is one of the places where they truly grew up and that is an important distinction that the authors really bring to life with first hand comments from these individuals themselves.
Overall, Born Digital is divided into easily organized sections, under headings such as: Identities, Privacy, Safety, Activism, Synthesis, etc. I felt that the book started off extremely strong by tackling how this generation shaped and was shaped by the Internet. This is really the key to understanding how the Internet evolved into its modern Web 2.0 form. It’s all about participation and direct communication. This movement really spred from kids and teenagers who grew up IM’ing and texting each other, and progressed to the point of managing personal profiles on Facebook and MySpace.
Also, I give the authors a great deal of credit for pointing out some of the dangers and limitations of a life online. While the obvious subject here is Safety (predators and cyber bullies receive some important discussion time), the all too often areas of information overload and the “Daily Me” are also covered in length.
These are two topics that many other Web 2.0 observers seem to regularly ignore and I was pleased to see the authors tackle them. Information overload is a pretty obvious concept to grasp, but the ramifications need to be addressed, which the authors do. What good is having nearly unlimited information at your fingertips if there is no surefire way to categorize it? Well it begins to overtake you and pretty soon you feel burned out to a point of not being able to process anything clearly. The authors warn users and those watching over them to guard against this condition and be vigilant about its signs.
In addition, concept of the Daily Me is effectively discussed. For a quick definition, here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry:
The term has also been associated with the phenomenon of individuals customising and personalising their news feeds, resulting in their being exposed only to content they are already inclined to agree with. The daily me can thus be a critical component of the “Echo Chamber” effect, defined in an article in Salon by David Weinberger “those Internet spaces where like-minded people listen only to those people who already agree with them.”
This is an idea that should concern everyone online. As old/traditional media wanes in influence, individual news consumers really need to guard against merely having their views be constantly reinforced by like-minded bloggers, columnists and news sources. Providing a bulwark against the Daily Me can also present a powerful opportunity for these traditional media outlets as they attempt to cross the digital threshold and offer relevant content and services to an Internet savvy generation.
As a final thought, I would have liked to have seen the authors of Born Digital break down the generation born after 1980 into more detail. There is undoubtedly a difference between someone born in 1981, who probably did not start using the Internet until their mid-late teens, versus an Internet user born in 1991. This would have provided an extremely fascinating window into how the stunning rate of technological change is even impacting those very people classified as Born Digital.


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