Digital Natives

January 17, 2009

I am currently reading a book called Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives (Palfrey and Gasser, 2008). The book is quite balanced as it is written by a couple of lawyers who happen to also have kids that belong to the category of ‘Digital Native’. The term refers to kids born into and raised in a completely digital world. In some ways it is the label for the new generation born after 1980 (like Baby Boomer, Generation X, and so on), but in another way it is limited in that it does not accurately describe the thousands of kids who may have access to the technologies but are not skilled in their use.add-shirt The book is partially a sociological description of the culture of these natives and, to a lesser extent, Digital Immigrants. They do make some recommendations throughout and I think some of their conclusions are thought-provoking. Here are a few from what I have read so far:

1. Digital Natives are typically quite savvy about their use of the technologies available. The real people to worry about appear to be the younger kids who do not have the same “digital literacy” and perhaps even the older folks to some extent. In short, “those users who fall on either side of the participation gap”.

2. The growth of Digital Dossiers is a big question mark for the future. The term refers to the expansion of records kept in digital form that can be copied ad infinitum and shared with virtually anyone. Much of this is private at present, but what about the future? “Technologies and how they are used, and social norms will continue to change, probably more rapidly than they have in the recent past. What’s enduring about the narratives of the lives of Digital Natives…is that some of them will come to regret the trade-offs in control they’ve made in the name of convenience.”

3. The move toward a global online culture may lead to the strengthening of democracies but there are some open questions about the limits of creativity and the management of the technology.

4. The need for kids to be taught critical thinking skills is greater than it has ever been before. Related to this are issues of quality, information overload, and safety. Teaching kids how to navigate the complex environments is better than attempting to blame the technology.

5. Digital Natives do not think of their online world as being separate from what many of us would call “the real world”.

For more information on this topic the following sites are helpful.

The Diverse and Exploding Digital Universe (predicts ten-fold growth in five years)

Library of Congress Web casts on Digital Natives


carol1The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford (2008)

One quality of Dicken’s Carol that has endeared the story to generations of readers since it’s publication is use of comedy and wit to balance an otherwise serious tale of hauntings, suffering, death, and wasted opportunity. In a similar way Les Sandiford attempts to strike a stylistic balance for his readers–this time between a portrayal of Dickens that is overly sentimental and one that is too cynical and ‘modern’. Sentimentalists will appreciate the way the author weaves the connections between Dicken’s private life, A Christmas Carol, his other publications, and his admiration for the holiday when it was little more celebrated than Memorial Day is today, with certain Victorian Christmas traditions. Cynics are treated to accounts of publishing wars and Ellen Ternan. The book is intended for both types of people–for those who don’t quite buy the idea that Dickens invented Christmas but also for those who think he did much more than most to re-invent it. The perfect recipient of this book, in my opinion, would be that intellectual in your life with a tinge of sentimentality and a thirst for details.

The book is essentially a combination of literary analysis and history as one reviewer has noted. As mentioned, it covers other works of Dickens besides A Christmas Carol.  Some of these are precursors to the tale he would write and self-publish in six weeks such as “The Story of Goblins Who Stole a Sexton” in a Christmas issue of The Pickwick Papers (1836). Others, such as his less successful The Chimes, were Dicken’s attempt to continue the tradition of writing Christmas stories after his masterpiece.

The marketing for this book follows a similar balancing act. In one sense it is clearly intended to be a gift book or something you might place on a coffee table during the holidays. It has uneven cut pages and even a “From:/ To:” page. The book, however, is also a work of scholarship complete with pseudo-footnotes for each of the chapters. It is apparent that Mr. Standiford has done some homework and has not simply sat down to re-word the Wikipedia entry, although, as others have pointed out, his research appears to be mostly limited to secondary sources.

51krmln95xl__sl160_aa115_Jentleson, Bruce W. American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century. 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2007.

When I first got interested in our recent election it was foreign policy that drew me in. The more I understood how neo-conservative thinking was making a break with some of our past policies in this area, the more interested I became. As ideas such as the “Project for the  New American Century” began to unashamedly play itself out in the Iraq invasion I began to become, along with many other Americans, concerned. It was not until after the election was over that I ran across this book. I wish I would have read it six months ago.

The book is by a Duke University professor and is essentially a textbook. In it you have a combination of theory, historical summaries, and primary source readings that are generally held together throughout the over six hundred pages by the “Four Ps of the National Interest”.

Power: coersion, defense, deterrence.

Peace: pursuing cooperation.

Prosperity: national and world.

Principles: promotion of democratic ideals.

That’s the easy part. This framework is then applied to our history which is conveniently divided into pre-ColdWar, Cold War, and post-Cold War periods. The overarching theme is that the “four Ps” are seldom complementary and often in conflict with each other, hence the subtitle involving “choices”. Indeed the authors can find only a couple of examples of anything like agreement between them–The Marshall Plan (1947) and the Persian Gulf War (1990-91). Part of the dynamics are due not only the foreign context itself but also the domestic context that exists within the nation at the time that these trade-offs are being made. Conflicts across Pennsylvania Ave., debates about war powers, intra-branch politics, interest group influence all muddy the waters at “the water’s edge”.

The book is an excellent reference tool for foreign policy up to the present. The third addition must apparently include some of the information on the Iraq War that was previously published separately as a sort of addendum since there is plenty of information about events since 2003. All the important speeches and writings influencing foreign policy over the years are included (usually in excerpted form) from Washington’s “Farewell Address” to Bush’s June and September 2002 statements concerning preemptive strikes in the war on terrorism that have collectively become known as the Bush Doctrine.

On the current situation since September 11, 2001  Jentleson convincly argues that the post-Cold War era has not only been defined by our current “War on Terror” but also by the genocides and humanitarian crises arising from places like Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Darfur. Globalization has pushed us into confronting these situations even though it has been quite clear that we do so reluctantly and belatedly. As they get larger they impinge upon not only our principles, but even upon our power and prosperity.

After reading this book I came away with two distinct but connected impressions. First, the choices that our leaders have to make are amazingly complicated. Second, globalization, though it has been around since the Middle Ages, is “wider” (all corners), “deeper” (depth of interrelationships), and “faster” (thank you World Wide Web) than it has ever been.  This lends a sort of feeling of inevitability to the whole situation. Everything from the IMF to McDonald’s upholds globalization.