November 13, 2008

John Palfrey: “Born Digital” Presentation

Notes from John Palfrey’s talk for the MacArthur Foun­da­tion at Google Chicago

point of the book Born Dig­i­tal was to bust some of the myths and look at dif­fer­ences in behav­ior between dig­i­tal natives and peo­ple like their grandparents

shouldn’t treat every­body the same way just because they have the same tech­nol­ogy — may not use it the same way
how they define this spe­cific group of kids (not all mil­len­ni­als) — born after 1980, access to the tech­nol­ogy (only 1 bil­lion peo­ple), skills to use it

5 char­ac­ter­is­tics

1. “I blog there­fore I am“
express their iden­tity online and offline — they don’t dis­tin­guish between the two
avatars as another ver­sion of iden­tity
one dif­fer­ence is “sub­scribe to *me*”

2. mul­ti­taskers
a lot of debate over mul­ti­task­ing and what it is, but they’re doing mul­ti­ple things at once
exam­ple of game in which boys tried to main­tain as many IM con­ver­sa­tions with as many girls as they could at once

3. con­sumers to cre­ators
inter­act with dig­i­tal for­mat — seems self-evident, but pre­sump­tion is imme­di­ate access because dig­i­tal (eg, dig­i­tal cam­era vs a dis­pos­able one); movie the­ater vs YouTube, print vs search­able text
pre­sump­tion of media in dig­i­tal form and that it’s social and shared

held a con­test to design the logo for “Dig­i­tal Natives” project at Har­vard Law School — got 136 entries (32 from the kid who won), just for the glory (no prize)

4. mash up dif­fer­ent media, putting dif­fer­ent forms of media together

comes down to a series of tech­nolo­gies — RSS, Google Docs, light­weight col­lab­o­ra­tive tools

5. an inter­na­tional per­spec­tive
“couch­surf­ing” Google Maps mashup — 89,000 friend­ships created

(I think these were the five char­ac­ter­is­tics, but I wasn’t pay­ing atten­tion to num­ber­ing until later)

Issues: Secu­rity

secu­rity — Inter­net Safety Tech­ni­cal Task Force (Texas is the only state not par­tic­i­pat­ing in this!)
“stranger dan­ger” is num­ber one fear
data shows kids are not any less safe than they were 10 years ago (fewer inci­dents), although some kids do meet their attack­ers online (it’s become a pub­lic park in some ways)

bul­ly­ing is borne out by the data, though — clearly an increase in this, although maybe it’s more that adults can see it now, as opposed to in the past (it’s asyn­chro­nous and per­sis­tent now)

social net­works:
– unin­tended audi­ence
– replic­a­bil­ity
– per­sis­tence
– search­a­bil­ity
– unin­ten­tional contributions

adults on dat­ing sites are just at bad as post­ing too much per­sonal infor­ma­tion as kids are on myspace, etc.

his big fear now is “dig­i­tal dossiers,” which start as early as sonograms

side­bar: what is a book? why take dig­i­tal infor­ma­tion about dig­i­tal behav­ior and put it in print?
didn’t write the book for kids, because they won’t read it
the book started as research posted in Base­camp
put chap­ters on a wiki

Issues: Pri­vacy

kids like 3–5 minute videos, so this sum­mer they gave some money to a few interns and had them remake each chap­ter into a video that they then put on YouTube
showed the video on “dig­i­tal dossiers”

Issues: Intel­lec­tual Property

copy­right piracy — notion of “stick­ing it to the man” still an excuse
kids that did get music from iTunes used gift cer­tifi­cates (often from par­ents), so they were actu­ally kind of down­load­ing it the same way — for free

remix issues — enor­mous con­fu­sion on this score
once a kid sees the artist, or once they become a cre­ator, they start to think dif­fer­ently about piracy
but there’s an enor­mous range of under­stand­ing about this
played the video of the piracy chapter

Issues: Cred­i­bil­ity

mis­in­for­ma­tion, cheat­ing, hid­den influ­encers, blogs, wikipedia
gen­er­ally, kids don’t go to the library unless forced to go there
“I went to the library on a field trip once“
Har­vard libraries are packed but with kids using lap­tops, not books

infor­ma­tion over­load — is it real? can you get addicted to this stuff?
thinks we have to take seri­ously the idea that you need fil­ter­ing tools for all of this


there are cor­re­spond­ing ben­e­fits and oppor­tu­ni­ties in each of these prob­lem areas
cre­ativ­ity, media lit­er­acy, social pro­duc­tion, semi­otic democracy

a world where peo­ple can remix cul­ture and his­tory — it’s much more pow­er­ful out­side the US but still impor­tant for democ­racy here

knowl­edge cre­ation, equity/democratic, participatory

empow­er­ing indi­vid­u­als, access to infor­ma­tion, infor­ma­tion creation
join the Face­book group

ended book on the chap­ter on activism — some young peo­ple are very involved with using these skills and tools to change the world and par­tic­i­pate
Obama cam­paign as an example

have to choose how we embrace these things while fight­ing the worst of them


- what was the cut­off point for the upper age of kids since those born in 1980 would be in grad­u­ate school now
– older kids were actu­ally more sophis­ti­cated and thought­ful about issues like pri­vacy, show­ing that kids do learn; big­ger con­cern might be the gap in the under­stand­ing of par­ents and teachers

- par­ents who didn’t go to col­lege have less expe­ri­ence in this area for edu­cat­ing kids about this stuff or show­ing them how to be cre­ative with these tools
if this is a cru­cial life skill, then we need to rethink this

- atti­tudes from the data about news?
– they asked a lot of ques­tions, and kids don’t read the NYT cover to cover or watch the evening news (this is a big gen­er­a­tional dif­fer­ence — every­body doesn’t get the same truth any­more); they graze for head­lines (which might be through RSS, a Face­book feed, on a mobile device, etc.) — get­ting lots and lots of facts; a smaller num­ber of them would “deep dive” and click on the link; fewer still engaged in a feed­back cycle (post it, cri­tique it, etc.); if the net effect is that we have every­body get­ting a shal­low ver­sion of the news & the most sophis­ti­cated ones are doing the most with it (tri­an­gu­lat­ing data, etc.), then that’s prob­lem­atic; asked if any­one has ever edited a Wikipedia page — only a few had ever done edits, and they were usu­ally to fix typos — didn’t find this recre­ation of the knowl­edge store

- did your research show what might hap­pen when dig­i­tal natives become old enough to change our IP law, fair use for exam­ple?
– copy­right law used to mat­ter only to map mak­ers, etc., but now it mat­ters to every­one; long way from being changed

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12:17 am Comments (5)


  1. I sat right in front of you. I won­dered if you were typ­ing furi­ously for a blog post, and, well, you were! Pal­frey was excel­lent and the atmos­phere couldn’t have been bet­ter for the presentation.

    Thanks for the notes–

    Comment by Kyle — November 13, 2008 @ 8:27 am

  2. Thanks for attend­ing! And as Kyle said, for tak­ing such great notes! It was won­der­ful to have you all there. We’d love for you and your read­ers to con­tribute to the con­ver­sa­tion fur­ther, by join­ing our face­book group: and con­tribut­ing to our wiki at:

    Until next… Cheers!

    - Amina W.

    Comment by DigitalNatives — November 13, 2008 @ 8:50 am

  3. Thanks so much for com­ing, Jenny! These are great notes. Hope to see you again soon.


    Comment by John Palfrey — November 13, 2008 @ 3:29 pm

  4. Thanks, every­one!

    Hi, Kyle — I wish you’d intro­duced your­self! Only after John fin­ished speak­ing did I real­ize how many librar­i­ans were there!

    Amina, I’ve already joined :)

    John, I’m very inter­ested in the issues you’re rais­ing, so I’ll def­i­nitely be in touch soon. I’m only about halfway through the book (I took a detour last month to read some fic­tion while on vaca­tion), but you’re pulling together a lot of the pieces I’ve been think­ing about lately.

    Comment by jenny — November 16, 2008 @ 10:43 am

  5. […] sites. A char­ac­ter­is­tic of the dig­i­tal age is imme­di­acy of access to infor­ma­tion. As the Shifted Librar­ian writes on her blog, tak­ing notes from a talk Pal­frey gave, we’ve shifted from […]

    Pingback by Baby’s first Google listing : Women Online — December 9, 2011 @ 3:15 pm

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