New book by Harvard Law Library’s director – Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives

I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives, by Harvard’s John Palfrey and Urs Gasser.  It just arrived yesterday and it is fascinating and wonderfully readable, right from page 1.  I highly, highly recommend it (even though I’m only through the second chapter!). 

The second chapter, “Dossiers,” offers much food for thought.  And here’s a little taste:

The amount of information that goes into the digital files kept about a baby born today is extraordinary.  To see just how extraordinary, let’s look at the digital dossier of a hypothetical baby:  We’ll call him Andy.

Andy’s digital life begins well before he is born — before he even has a name.  The first entry in his digital file is a sonogram that his proud parents-to-be affix to the refrigerator, anticipating the happy event of his birth.  That same image is recreated in the hospital database, the first formal record of Andy’s life.  . . . In this case, with good reason, the obstetrician’s team will copy Andy’s image into a file for the pediatrician who will care for him after he’s born.  Start counting: That’s one digital file, copied in at least four places.

. . .

Even the digital information that we perceive to be out of reach from third parties may in fact be more accessible than we realize, now or in the future.  We can only hope that the Social Security Administration’s computer system, which processes and stores the application for Andy’s new Social Security number, is a digital Fort Knox.  But the biggest search engines — like Google and Baidu, China’s largest search engine — are constantly improving the ability of their Web crawlers to unearth more and more data from the dark recesses of the Internet.  These crawlers copy information, without asking permission, and dump it into a massive, structured global index.  At the same time, social networks and other services hosting personally identifiable information are eager to get the traffic from these search engines, so they are exposing more and more about people to the likes of Google and Baidu.  This combination of factors — the incentive for search engines to index all the world’s information and the incentive of online service providers to draw people to information on their sites — means that information about Andy that was once in a silo is now in a more open, public space. . . .

. . .

The problem with the rapid growth of digital dossiers is that the decisions about what to do about personal information are made by those who hold the information.  The person who contributes the information to a digital dossier may have a modicum of control up front, but he or she rarely exercises it.  The person to whom the information relates — sometimes the person who contributed it, sometimes not — often has no control whatsoever about what happens to the data.  The existence of these dossiers may not itself be problematic.  But these many, daily, individual acts result in a rich, deep dataset associated with an individual that can be aggregated and searched.  The process, start to finish, is only lightly regulated.

 

On the book jacket our Professor Lawrence Lessig writes “Digital technologies are changing our kids in ways we don’t yet understand.  This beautifully written book will set the framework for a field that will change that.  It is required reading for parents, educators, and anyone who cares about the future.”

I agree that it is beautifully written and that it should be required reading. 

Here’s the catalog record:

Author: Palfrey, John.
Title: Born digital : understanding the first generation of digital natives / John Palfrey and Urs Gasser.
Imprint: New York : Basic Books, c2008.
Physical Description: vii, 375 p. ; 25 cm.
Notes: Includes bibliographical references and index.
Contents: Identities — Dossiers — Privacy — Safety — Pirates  — Creators — Quality — Overload — Aggressors — Innovators — Learners — Activists — Synthesis.
          Subject (LC): Information society–Social aspects.
          Subject (LC): Information technology–Social aspects.
          Subject (LC): Technological innovations–Social aspects.
          Subject (LC): Internet and children.
          Subject (LC): Internet and teenagers.
          Subject (LC): Internet–Social aspects.
          Subject (LC): Technology–Social aspects.
          Subject (LC): Digital media–Social aspects.
          Added author: Gasser, Urs.
                  ISBN: 9780465005154

LAW CALL NUMBER                                              
   1)HM851 .P34 2008

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