Born Digital – Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser Basic Books, 2008
I have often encountered the term “Digital Native”, which loosely defined, means anyone born after the introduction of the internet. As I am an educator and parent of digital natives, I have spent some time considering how to best address their needs. Some time ago, I stumbled across a book about the topic, and felt compelled to read it, hoping that Born Digital – Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives, would help me understand this digital generation. The book begins with a definition of the digital native as one who was “born after 1980, when social digital technologies came online. Major aspects of their lives are mediated by digital technologies and they’ve never known another way of life.” Although digital natives have been described as a generation, Palfrey and Gasser point out that they are actually more like a population, as only 1 in 6 people worldwide have access to digital technology. On the other hand, we cannot ignore digital natives consist of a large part of a greater population, living in our midst, existing both in our homes and schools while simultaneously creating a parallel identity in cyberspace.
The authors were born before the time of the digital natives. Their goal is to demystify the lifestyles, interactions, and behaviours of youth who belong to this generation of “digital natives”. The most salient message is that digital natives have the power to express themselves and affect change through digital technologies. However, with that power comes responsibility.
In the first several chapters, Palfrey and Gasser spend some time outlining the ubiquitous nature of the internet. As digital natives continue to spend more time online, they leave more and more traces of themselves, leaving digital footprints that will eventually be collected or aggregated into a digital dossier. In the first half of the text, Palfrey and Gasser spend some time describing the ways in which this collection of digital footprints can impact the digital native in both positive and negative ways. They argue that despite ‘growing up digital’ users lack the digital literacy skills to control their identities. Often, digital natives feel very safe in their anonymity, and may share more about themselves than they really should, or may behave in ways that are harmful to themselves or others.
The Role of the Digital Immigrant
Parents and educators play an important part in guiding digital natives. However, parents and educators are part of the generation commonly referred to as digital immigrants – we learn about digital tools and technology in the same manner an English Language Learner acquires language in Canada. The way digital immigrants lived, worked, played, and socialized was very different 30 years ago than the way todays’ youth do today. We need to consider that the way our children or students live their daily lives is something they take for granted, because unlike the digital immigrant, the majority of youth today have never known any other way. Some digital immigrants are quite savvy in their understanding of the internet and all its benefits and potential hazards, while many have only a basic understanding of the potential held by the internet. No matter what the digital immigrant’s skill level, we must all have open lines of communication with our children, and educate ourselves in order to support our children if any issues arise.
Celebrating the Power of the Internet
In later chapters, the authors move from a cautionary tone to one which celebrates the potential of web-based technologies. Digital natives use technology for self-expression, promotion of ideas, and to interact with the world at large, affecting change, often in positive ways. The authors paint a very positive picture of the potential benefits of mash-ups, videos, blogs, and user-generated content that is shared online. This collaborative movement to share and create has many positive implications, and must be protected.
Parents and Educators will benefit from reading Born Digital
At the end of the book, an excellent glossary of terms is available. This is very useful for parents and educators unfamiliar with some of the terms or abbreviations commonly used in reference to digital technologies. The book is invaluable for parents and educators who are in the beginning stages of understanding the world our digital natives inhabit. The book provides enough information to give digital immigrants a starting point from which they can delve deeper into areas of interest. The book is well researched. The ideas are supported by a wide variety of facts, statistics, and information. A variety of examples and analogies are provided so that readers who are unfamiliar with the digital landscape of social media and user-generated content will understand the author’s point of view, and the implications for their children. This text does a thorough job of painting a clear picture of the digital native, and allows parents and educators unfamiliar with this landscape to have a good understanding of the benefits and potential dangers of the digital native’s digital lifestyle.
“Allow them to learn the same way they live”
The following video portrays the ways in which learning is changing for our youth. It successfully promotes what our education system must include in order to accommodate the lifestyle of the digital native. Desire2Learn is available in Ontario, as well as in other parts of the world in order to support teachers wishing to offer students a Blended Learning model in which students can benefit from the knowledge and instruction of the classroom teacher, as well as the web-based videos, tools, and programs which allow them to “learn the same way they live”.
Check out Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Nativeson Amazon.com