Book Review: Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives


Child observes internet tubes (image:boingboing)

In their new book, Born Digital, John Palfrey and Urs Gassler discuss the generation of digital natives, described as those born after 1980, and how they interact with online knowledge, compared with the online experiences of digital immigrants.

The thesis of the book is that those in the youngest generation are more adept, more at home on the Internet. As someone who works with the small percentage of college grads in the millennial generation (only 29% of American adults have a bachelors’ degree), age doesn’t always reflect degree of online knowledge.

Siva Vaidhyanathan has taken issue with viewing those of a certain age as a generation, and specifically with “digital natives“, arguing in a Chronicle article

Talk of a “digital generation” or people who are “born digital” willfully ignores the vast range of skills, knowledge, and experience of many segments of society. It ignores the needs and perspectives of those young people who are not socially or financially privileged. It presumes a level playing field and equal access to time, knowledge, skills, and technologies. The ethnic, national, gender, and class biases of any sort of generation talk are troubling. And they could not be more obvious than when discussing assumptions about digital media.

Henry Jenkins also has issues with the digital native terminology:

Talk of digital natives may make it harder for us to pay attention to the digital divide in terms of who has access to different technical platforms and the participation gap in terms of who has access to certain skills and competencies or for that matter, certain cultural experiences and social identities. Talking about youth as digital natives implies that there is a world which these young people all share and a body of knowledge they have all mastered, rather than seeing the online world as unfamiliar and uncertain for all of us.

Despite my own reservations about calling a generation “digital natives”, this book has a wealth of information about what I would prefer to view as two separate, but occasionally overlapping groups, those comfortable and familiar with online and similar technologies, and those who are not yet adults — with their still growing and developing brains.

The authors do discuss participatory culture and the intersection between creativity and copyright. There is a mention of fanworks like fanfiction in a section about mashups and creativity. But neither in the creativity or activism sections is there mention of fair use interspersed with the frequent mentions of copyright and ownership.

One of the sections that I found the most interesting was about libraries and librarians:

There’s never been a greater need for reference librarians. . . . In addition to maintaining access to traditional pools of knowledge [books and journals], librarians should help Digital Natives figure out how to manage the rivers of digital information that they encounter every day [like RSS].

The role of libraries is increasing … as Digital Natives up saturated in the information environment of the digital age.

One final note: While the text of the book is interesting, one of the most impressive aspects is the organization. Except for oddly leaving libraries out of the index, the supplemental backbone of the book (the index, selected bibliography, glossary, and notes/citation) help the reader to find useful information. I expect equally good information from the upcoming wiki.

Born Digital‘s ISBNs are 0465005152 9780465005154 & it can be found in many libraries.

MySpace Music: Late To The Party

I gave a test run to MySpace’s new and “improved” music store/community this weekend. I want to give it a little more time, since it literally just came out yesterday, but so far I’m not quite feeling it. Honestly, I don’t spend much time on MySpace these days, I long abandoned it for Facebook as my go-to spot for social networking, but I used to spend a little bit more time there to follow my favorite local/indie/unsigned bands and to learn about newer unsigned bands. In many cases a MySpace page was the only way to follow many of these bands.

But in the past year or so, I’ve found myself skipping MySpace entirely for iLike, Pandora,, Imeem, and (the departed but not forever) Muxtape to discover new music and when I’m ready to buy, go to emusic, iTunes, the band’s website or (!!!) my local record store. So MySpace has really stopped playing the role it did a couple of years ago for me and music. I wonder what MySpace music can do for music fans that the above companies aren’t already doing? Especially in the case of iLike, which isn’t locked into one social network.

That aside, MySpace Music isn’t really offering much to the online music party, in addition to being late to said party, it’s not very well dressed and socially awkward. The interface feels clunky and dated, reminiscent of Yahoo!Music back in the day. The selection is very limited, considering this is essentially a big marriage of convenience between the major labels and MySpace, good luck downloading bands from smaller labels here, or even full discographies of some bigger bands.

The functionality and offerings of MySpace Music will improve, but at this point, does it matter when music fans already have so many superior options to discover, share and (legally) download music?

Get A Little Bit Closer: DIY Marketing the NIN Way!

Yippie! On Monday, I got an exciting e-mail from my hero, Trent Reznor! I had this entire post planned about the survey that Trent Reznor sent out to registered fans at, and how DIY marketing is a sign of things to come in the music industry, and that connecting with and engaging your base is better return on investment than the old school approach of trying to demand loyalty from a large number of casual fans, but Bob Lefsetz did it for me, so I’ll just let the man speak:

Hold on to what you’ve got. Maximize what you’ve got. Pleasure your regular customers. At least you know they’re interested. Trying to convert someone new is oh so difficult. That’s one of BMW’s successes. The number of people who buy ANOTHER BMW! Are you gonna buy another album by lame-o act if the first one only had one good track out of ten? Are you going to buy the new single if the act never made it beyond the first single? Are you going to go see an act live that only has one hit single?

Record labels still believe it’s the nineties. They’re in cahoots with the major media outlets. But radio’s tanking, newspapers are in free-fall and MTV doesn’t play any music. These are your modern partners? Ridiculous. Your partner is your AUDIENCE! It’s easy to reach your audience, if you’re good, if they like you.

Hell, YOU can’t even convert a new audience member. Usually A FAN has to do this! If I get one more loser e-mailing me a link to his MySpace/YouTube page, or worse, committing the crime against humanity known as e-mailing an unsolicited MP3, I’m gonna PUKE! I don’t want to hear it from you! I want to hear about it from the underground, not someone with an investment! … Old line marketing is dead. And who knows what’s truly going on in the present? NOBODY! Which is why Trent Reznor is ASKING HIS FANS!

Let me piggyback on that. I will add, as always, it’s not just the music industry that could stand to learn from this, and not just the entertainment industry but most companies, organizations that are engaging their fans online. But it’s the entertainment industry who needs the biggest fire lit under their asses, because marketing execs never seem to listen to what people want. That’s how we end up with movies like Ghost Town.

Yes, it’s a survey, you may say. Big deal. We sent out a survey last week! That’s nice, but do you really want to find out what your base thinks, to really get input from your fans or do you just want an ego stroke, to get the success of your existing marketing strategies confirmed by your survey results? That’s a losing battle.

Seriously, just ask what your fans want. What they really, really want. And like the Spice Girls, they will tell you. There may be answers you don’t necessarily want to hear, but you can learn from it.

Bob Lefsetz may be a bit in love with the CAPS LOCK key, but he is on the money with this. If you are using traditional marketing strategies to get your message across online, you fail. Ask, and then listen, listen listen. Engage, and be honest.

And while I’m at it, can I just say, as a fangirl, it took at least 20 minutes for me to figure out what my favorite NIN song is. I am still not fully sure of my choice. Why did I care so much? Because this survey gives me the impression that I have am a stakeholder, and that my answer may lead to some kind of action that affects me as a fan. (Maybe my favorite song will get played live, perhaps my favorite album will get re-released in Surround Sound! Hint, hint.) I don’t get anything tangible from this survey except the feeling that I’m being listened to. Sometimes for a loyal supporter, that’s enough. Think about it.

Lexicon of not fair use: The Decision in the Harry Potter Lawsuit

After many months, Judge Patterson issued an opinion (PDF) in the Harry Potter Lexicon case, ruling that the Lexicon, could not be published and ordered a payment of $6,750 for copyright violation.

The part of the decision based on fair use states

The fair-use factors, weighed together in light of the purposes of copyright law, fail to support the defense of fair use in this case. The first factor does not completely weigh in favor of Defendant because although the Lexicon has a transformative purpose, its actual use of the copyrighted works is not consistently transformative. Without drawing a line at the amount of copyrighted material that is reasonably necessary to create an A-to-Z reference guide, many portions of the Lexicon take more of the copyrighted works than is reasonably necessary in relation to the Lexicon’s purpose. Thus, in balancing the first and third factors, the balance is tipped against a finding of fair use. The creative nature of the copyrighted works and the harm to the market for Rowling’s companion books weigh in favor of Plaintiffs. In striking the balance between the property rights of original authors and the freedom of expression of secondary authors, reference guides to works of literature should generally be encouraged by copyright law as they provide a benefit readers and students; but to borrow from Rowling’s overstated views, they should not be permitted to “plunder” the works of original authors [], “without paying the customary price” [], lest original authors lose incentive to create new works that will also benefit the public interest [].

So what I think? Overall, this decision will not hurt non-commercial fan works, but one should be careful before commercializing works or using too much of the source material.

As I discussed previously, the exclusion of mentions of fan labor and fan contribution is unfortunate. However, there are helpful nuggets for those who are engaged in fanworks, for example, the Lexicon was found not to be a derivative work — meaning that it recast the story of Harry Potter in a way that no longer made it the same as the work of J.K. Rowling:

altering the original aesthetic of the Harry Potter series from an intricate narrative to an alphabetized catalogue of elements from the Harry Potter world.

Overall, the decision gives a distinct impression that if one is to base a work on that of another, it should be of high quality — and that means not too much direct copying:

The Lexicon’s verbatim copying of such highly aesthetic expression raises a significant question as to whether it was reasonably necessary for the purpose of creating a useful and complete reference guide…. Verbatim copying of this nature demonstrates Vander Ark’s lack of restraint due to an enthusiastic admiration of Rowling’s artistic expression, or perhaps haste and laziness as Rowling suggested …, in composing the Lexicon entries.

So be careful about the aesthetic quality of your next fanfic or fanart !11!!