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 immendsely positive effect on the world we live in. By and large, the digital revolution has already made this world a better place. And Digital Natives have every chance of propelling society further forward in myriad ways -- if we let them. (p. 7)
Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser is a fine and useful book. Every page is brimming with facts and analysis concerning one of the most pressing issues of the day: how are the current generation of kids raised by the web going to change absolutely everything about our culture and society. Or are they? Are all the new skillz and talents that they have for multitasking and remixing really beneficial? Are they going to pirate our culture down to nothing, leaving behind a series of drunken, half-naked pictures of themselves on Facebook?
Ok, Palfrey and Gasser don't quite answer all those questions, but the do take a fairly objective look at the net generation, willing to look at the good things and not-so-good things about the digital cultural transformation that's driving them. The quote above may seem overhyped, but in reality the authors look at each issue very calmly and without excess hype. For each issue they look at what's happening, what the upside is as well as the potential pitfalls and how the kids themselves, parents, educators and society as a whole can guide and mentor the kids along the right path.
The also are willing to concede that "born digital" isn't just a generational thing, that there are older people that are digital and younger that aren't, that there are multiple digital divides going on.
What aspects of digital native culture do they address? Each of th thirteen chapters explores the pros, cons, upsides & downsides of an issue. Some of them are: identity, online personal dossiers, privacy, safety and online threats, content creation vs. piracy, evaluating the quality of information (librarians get a shout-out here), information overload, aggressive behaviour by kids in online environments, innovation, learning styles and online activism.
As I said, the questions we have about digital natives aren't all answered, but at least they get us thinking about them and pondering what the answers might be as well as giving us the information we need to get started, and that's a very valuable thing. I recommend this book without hesitation to librarians, educators and parents. Any library that serves any of those constituencies could do worse than having this book in it's collection.
If there's any flaw, it's that the prose doesn't exactly sing. It can be a tough slog to get all the way through, but it's well worth it. In terms of attitude, comparing books I've reviewed before, this is similar in spirit to Shirky's Here Comes Everybody (Amazon) when compared to the marketingspeak and hypehypehype of Wikinomics (Amazon).
But make no mistake: We are at a crossroads. There are two possible paths before us -- one in which we destroy what is great about the Internet andabout how young people use it, and one in which we make smart choices and head towards a bright future in a digital age. The stakes of our actions today are very high. The choices that we are making now will govern how our children and grandchildren live their lives in many important ways: how they shape their identities, protect their privacy, and keep themselves safe; how they create, understand and shape the information that underlies the decision-making of their generation; an dhow the learn, innovate and takes responsibility as citizens. (p. 7)