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What is the Digital Natives project?

An academic research team -- joining people from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and the Research Center for Information Law at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland -- is hosting and working on the core of this wiki, which illustrates the beginning stages of a larger research project on Digital Natives.

Are all youth digital natives? Simply put, no. Though we frame digital natives as a population “born digital,” not all youth are digital natives. Digital natives share a common global culture that is defined not by age, strictly, but by certain attributes and experiences related to how they interact with information technologies, information itself, one another, and other people and institutions. Those who were not "born digital" can be just as connected, if not more so, than their younger counterparts. And not everyone born since, say, 1980, happens to be a digital native. Part of the challenge of this research is to understand the dynamics of who exactly is, and who is not, a digital native, and what that means.

The focus of this research is on exploring the impacts of this generational demarcation between those born with these technologies and those who were not. The project will address the issues and benefits of this digital media landscape and gain valuable insight into how digital natives make sense of their experiences online. This information will help us make recommendations to educators and legislators in a way that supports young people and harnesses the exciting possibilities their digital fluency presents.

We invite you to contribute to our newest research project on child online safety in the developing world, an exciting collaboration between Berkman and UNICEF.

Visit the Digital Natives blog to hear the latest developments, reflections, and musings of the projects investigators, fellows, and interns...and join in!

Why a Wiki on Digital Natives?

This wiki is a community work-space for posting information about Digital Natives. Please create an account or log in and start contributing. This site is particularly for parents, teachers, researchers, and DNs themselves to talk about what it means to be born digital and the implications of generational shifts in how people use technology.

We hope in particular that teachers and parents will use this wiki as a place to build out pages where they collaborate on the development of teaching ideas, best practices -- even jointly to create syllabi for different fields.

We encourage you to join in, though we ask that you use your name or a persistent pseudonym if you care to post. The most helpful things would be 1) to build out the narratives, the problems, the possible solutions, and the relevant research/articles for each of the topics we've set up so far or 2) to set up new topics or sections that you'd like to see similar work on by the community.

Have a video related to DNs? An audio file? A blog post? A bookmark? Link to them from here from the relevant section of the wiki. Or create a new section to fit your content. And feel free to use the "DigitalNatives" tag across taxonomies -- Technorati,, all the rest. There's no reason why this wiki has to be dry and boring. Rich media will help us all understand the phenomenon better. So join in!

Table of Contents

Introduction to the Life of Digital Natives

What is a digital native? How does the generational divide impact the legal, societal, and educational realms? This section is aimed primarily at introducing the life of a digital native, in addition to the various concepts we will be exploring through this research project. For those who may be unfamiliar with Digital Native terms, please see our Glossary.

Digital Identity

Amidst a digital landscape that offers up a constant explosion of information – and influence - natives assert their personal thoughts and experiences, as well as their own political beliefs. digital natives carry this theme of personalization into their wider lives – by creating and ‘showing their own’ in order to – among many other reasons – assert themselves amongst a sea of information and influence.

Digital Safety

The digital world is inherently more vulnerable to malicious intent via badware, viruses, hackers, etc. Some argue youth are also more susceptible to sexual predators and bullies online. However, often “new” dangers are “real world” threats encountered through different mediums. There is a history of panic surrounding the introduction of new media forms, and a careful, objective strategy is needed to protect our young people without hindering their development.

Digital Privacy

Most digital natives (DNs) live online, 24/7, where everything done is recorded for posterity. Some DNs call it expression. Some digital immigrants feel it’s shifting our notions of privacy. Forums for education and discussion around online sharing practices, as well as legal dialogue about the documentation and availability of private information, have become crucial considerations for our society.

Digital Creativity

Just as an artist may create a sculpture from materials found in the wild, digital natives view the media landscape as their “natural habitat” from which they can pull resources for creativity, expression, and commerce. The future balance of expression and property issues will be an important legal discussion in the years ahead.

Digital Opportunities

Every day, the Internet becomes more important for society. The Internet revolution is fundamentally and significantly changing politics, education, and the nature of human interactions. This section explores the challenges and potential in areas.

Digital Information Overload

Information overload refers to the increasingly frequent state of having too much information to make a decision or remain informed about a topic. This problem can lead to low productivity, frustration, stress, and poor decision making.

Digital Information Quality

As opposed to reading books and magazines, digital natives largely draw information from the Internet. Since everybody with internet access can be a publisher on the internet, such information can be incorrect, outdated, or inconsistent. Digital natives should base their knowledge on high quality information that is fit for its intended use. The creation, distribution, and accessibility of such high quality information is crucial for the functioning of an information society built on digital natives.

Digital Piracy

Most adults recognize the consequences of theft. To them, illegally downloading a song carries the same weight as walking out of the grocery store with the an unpaid gallon of milk. Digital Natives, on the other hand, are growing up in a post-Napster world where most of their peers condone casual piracy. From watching uploaded TV shows to getting an upcoming album before the rest of the neighborhood, the youth’s incentives to pirate media significantly outweigh the possible consequences.

Digital Education

Technology has always been an important factor for education, but the rapid development of Internet and digital technology over the past decade is changing more than just the equipment used in the classroom: kids' learning styles and school behavior are constantly being shaped by the growing presence of the Internet. This section examines digital education and the need digital literacy while also looking at the pros/cons and problems/solutions of digital education.

Questions for Discussion

  1. How do we explore the nuances of the participation gap, taking into account the impact of social inequality and parental fluency?
  2. Who is our digital native? Do we accept the premise that digital natives process information in a different way than immigrants? How do we empirically explore the digital generation gap?
  3. Does the technology develop first, or the social norms about how the tools are used? Are the technological limitations of these tools transforming the way natives socialize and understand themselves?
  4. How do youth in different countries use online socialization tools differently, and what is the significance of these differences? How do on-line social activities affect off-line identity development?

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Related Research Projects

  • Global Kids - A NYC nonprofit that promotes digital participation among diverse youth, Global Kids asked more than 400 youth to participate in online discussions and communities, and to write essays about how they use, and what intrigues them about digital media.
  • MIT | New Media Literacies project (NML) - "NML is developing a theoretical framework and hands-on curriculum for K-12 students that integrates new media tools into broader educational, expressive and cultural frameworks."
  • Mills College - "This project is focused on expanding the California Survey of Civic Capacities and Commitments, an ongoing survey of high school students that explores how digital media has influenced their civic participation."
  • Northwestern University | Web Use Project - "The study focuses on a diverse group of college students' Internet uses, participation and skill, and examines the relationship between the increasing spread of information technologies and social inequality."
  • Stanford University/University of Chicago, Center for Urban School Improvement - "How can digital media enhance the learning environment for young people? This project is studying the after-school digital media program at Center for Urban School Improvement in Chicago to find out. They will determine how the program leads young people to seek out new learning opportunities, develop the skills necessary to work in a digital environment, and support their identity development."
  • University of the Arts Berlin | Networked Systems We assume that the digital revolution delivers new challenges for everybody and that there are no sufficient "analog" methods that can guide people proactively through the digital world - people need support when they deal with digital phenomena. (Especially people of the "wooden toys generation" who have no digital socialization.)

What We're Reading


Book Reviews and Discussions/Responses