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Kindle: not your parents’ eBook.

On November 19, announced its first foray into hardware: a portable eBook reader called the Kindle. Amazon hopes the Kindle will become the iPod of books – a portable personal library you can take anywhere.

Amazon Kindle (image courtesy

That same day, the National Endowment for the Arts announced the results of a new study: young Americans are reading less.

So it makes sense that despite obvious similarities, the Kindle and the iPod target very different markets. Whereas Apple turned the iPod into an icon of digital native culture, Amazon is aiming the Kindle squarely at digital immigrants.

Look at the features Amazon is touting. A display that mimics the look of ink on paper. A built in wireless book store so you never have to touch a computer. The ability to change text size. In short, it’s designed for people who hate using computers and have bad eyesight.

Meanwhile, with a screen saver featuring the likes of Jane Austen and the Gutenberg printing press, along with what the popular technology blog Engadget calls “a big ol’ dose of the ugly,” the Kindle is almost aggressively unhip. As one analyst told the Wall Street Journal, “No one is going to buy Kindle for its sex appeal.”

Moreover, digital natives tend to be more comfortable reading from traditional LCD screens than their parents are. Indeed, some of us, myself included, actually prefer reading from a screen. I’d much rather read a book on, say, an iPhone, than have to carry a separate device.

But as the NEA study (3.3 MB PDF) makes clear, most readers aren’t digital natives. If older consumers take to the Kindle in droves, perhaps they could become the digital natives of literature, defining the new paradigm for how we read digital books.

In a sense then, whether knowingly or not, Amazon is performing a large scale social experiment. We can’t wait to see the results.

-Jesse Baer

CNN YouTube Debates

Tonight, CNN and YouTube hosted the republican complement to the successful democratic debate they hosted last June. The premise is the same: allow anyone to submit a question on YouTube, and then pose selected ones to candidates. Many would agree that this is a good step towards a participatory democracy (see John Palfrey’s post about it here), but some still want more. The New York Times has a series of Op Eds about what a “real, new-media debate would look like.” The responses range from cynical to creative, with some well planned enough to see possible implementation. Here I’d like to discuss some of the most thought provoking.

Kevin Kelly, an editor at large for Wired magazine, notes that “the truth becomes something you assemble with the help of friends” and on a continuous basis. He suggests having the lives of candidates constantly documented so citizen journalists can fact check and note not only the “oops” moments but also the “aha” ones.

Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry, the co-founders of, offer a simple and effective way to better cull the videos submitted by users: let other users vote. I agree that, in theory, this would be more representative of the population, but it allows for viral videos to overtake other ones that may be more important to ask. But who currently decides what is most important to ask? Right now, the answer is still a panel of journalists that review the submissions and try to cover the most salient issues. The panel selects videos in light of viewing all the rest, whereas a voting public likely will not.

Matt Bai, contributing editor for the New York Times magazine, proposes that the candidates have laptops behind the lecterns and type comments that would be displayed on an overhead monitor while the other candidate answers a question. In his full Op Ed piece he provides some comical examples of its use.

Obviously, the suggestions in the collection of Op Eds were designed as fantasy; an imaginative view of what a super cutting edge debate would be. Who knows how many of the ideas will be implemented, in one way or another, in the future as more DNs become politically active and engaged in elections.

What are your ideas for making the debates truly participatory?

-Tony P.

I Wish I Knew How to Quit You

“I don’t have a problem,” Chang-hoon said in an interview three days after starting the camp. “Seventeen hours a day online is fine.”

The New York Times
has an article about a South Korean boot camp for kids with Internet addictions. South Korea, which claims to be the most wired nation on the planet, recently held an international symposium on Internet addiction . According to a government study, 30% of its youths under 18 (this people would be Digital Natives) are at risk for Internet addiction. With dramatic stories like gamers dying after gaming binges (one such case), Internet addiction is becoming an increasingly discussed phenomenon in Asia. In the United States, however, the American Psychiatric Association does not officially recognize Internet addiction as a disorder, though some argue that it should.

To go off on a slightly tangential idea, the question on my mind is whether this is a matter of a generational shift. Seventeen hours a day, like the kid quoted above, is excessive, but where do you draw the line? When most people think of Internet addiction, they probably think of gaming, yet what most Digital Natives spend hours online doing is socializing. Even in Internet gaming, the social interactions with fellow gamers is an important component. Meanwhile, for the average teenager, “I’m addicted to Facebook!” is an excuse for procrastination I often hear (and occasionally use), yet is it correct to characterize this as an addiction if you’re building and reinforcing social networks? The answer will probably be colored by your opinion on the quality of online social interactions. Either way, Internet use is becoming increasingly common and even necessary in today’s digital world.

-Sarah Z.

Cyberbullying on MySpace

As someone totally immersed in the digital world, I’m always a little surprised when I hear of people deeply suspicious of the Internet. It’s the 21st century, I think. But with stories like that of Megan Meiers, even I get shocked, slightly paranoid, and start fiddling with my Facebook privacy control.

Megan Meiers was an 8th grader in Dardenne Prairie, MO who began exchanging messages with a boy, Josh Evans, she met on MySpace. Out of the blue, Josh wanted to break off their relationship and sent messages saying, “I don’t know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I’ve heard that you are not very nice to your friends.” Megan, who had a history of self-esteem problems and depression, committed suicide.

The bizarre and tragic twist to this story is that Josh Evans turned out to be a fake. He was an online identity created by a mother of Megan’s former friend. The original St. Charles Journal article left out the names of the imposters, but bloggers have outed their identity online. Megan’s parents went to the media with their story and are pushing for legislation to criminalize the mother’s actions. Anyone with legal expertise have any thoughts?

The issue here obviously stretches beyond the digital world, but it does bring up the unique problem of cyberbullying: anonymity. After all, anyone can be a dog on the Internet, and anyone could be your ex-friend’s mom.

-Sarah Z.

Building Walls in Facebook

As a college student who has been using Facebook for the past few years, I have noticed a pronounced change in how some of my peers are using the tool: they are becoming wiser with regards to privacy. It’s as if all of the articles about people getting fired and losing job offers have had an effect. But there is another reason why people have started to restrict access to their photos, wall, and other sections of their profile: their audience has changed.

There are, of course, still millions of college students who post anything and everything to their profile, with no qualms about who sees it. Call it negligence, call it expression, it doesn’t matter. What does matter, and what interests me, is the growing group of students who have taken control of their digital identity by using granular security settings; ones that allow you to control who sees what, on a per-person and per-item basis. Potential employers have been prowling Facebook for at least a couple years, so why the change now? It’s simple: they’re out of the shadows.

Before Facebook opened up to anyone, the audience of whatever digital identity you had was visible only as your peers, the people whose faces showed up under your “Friends” box. Now, with adults (that could be offering you a job in the near future) and younger siblings (who can tell mom and dad) joining social networks, the presence of the complete audience is known. The reaction of people to control who sees what is a normal one: we speak differently and of different things with recruiters or professors than with our friends, and the success of a social network that strives to capture users across all ages may hinge on its ability mimic real life walls. By empowering users to control access to different parts of their digital dossier, they can construct settings that represent the different real-life social circles. I want to be connected, not exposed.

– Tony P., Cambridge, MA

Do You Trust Your Facebook Friends?

Facebook’s recently launched advertising strategy, dubbed Social Ads, attempts the harness the power of its social network and put it toward advertising dollars. There are two components to this strategy. There are Facebook Pages for bands, companies, and celebrities, on which you can list yourself as a “fan” of say, Coca Cola. Second is the integration of external websites. When you buy an item from a website partnered with Facebook, such as, a message is sent back to Facebook and your action may show up in News Feed.

The New York Times technology blog, Bits, has several posts criticizing Facebook’s new advertising platform on both social and legal levels. First of all, there is the question of effectiveness. As any Digital Native can tell you, the term “Facebook friend” has a meaning distinct from simply “friend,” and where you may care about the purchases of a real friend, it’s not the same with a Facebook friend. The second piece is about privacy, from both a legal perspective and in principle. Is there something uneasy about how Social Ads puts your face and name to advertise a product, even one you legitimately bought or proclaimed to be a fan of?

Despite the negativity found in the posts and comments of Bits, the new ad platform has seen relatively little internal discontent, certainly nothing close to the level of anti-News Feed hysteria. Have Facebook users, especially Digital Natives, simply accepted that they will cede some privacy for the use of this free and valuable service?

– Sarah Z.

How does a foundation program officer decide how to make grants?

At the Berkman Center’s lunch speaker series, Gary Kebbel of the Knight Foundation is with us today. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen such a public, open discussion by a program officer of a foundation about how they do their work in funding great projects. The Knight Foundation has been running the News Challenge for a few years, and they seek to learn and improve their processes each time. This year, they doubled the number of applications and, even more impressive, they reached out successfully to a global set of applicants (good news, we think, coming from the Global Voices-style perspective, as we do here at the Berkman Center). Knight has also continued to innovate with ways for people to submit public or private applications to the consideration process.  One thing I learned: News Challenge applicants are free to read these comments, in the case of an open application, and then go back and revise and improve their application. They’ve also got a blog on PBS called Idea Lab, part of the PBS Media Shift blogging empire (hey! there’s David Ardia).

In the spirit of our interest in young people, Digital Natives, doing innovative things online: The most interesting experiment, from my perspective, is their work with MTV and MTV International on the Young Creators Award. They set aside $500,000 for this award, geared toward those 25-years-old and younger. Of the new young applicants, almost half are international.

Some of the upticks that they are seeing in the applications to this year’s News Challenge: Facebook applications, use of GPS-related tools, and place-tagging for wireless.

Grant-seekers and innovators and young creators around the world, watch Gary explain how the sausage is made when it comes to grant-making at the Knight Foundation. Watch also for commentary from uber-bloggers Ethan Zuckerman and David Weinberger and Lisa Williams, who are in the room here in real-time.

– John P.

This entry is cross posted on John Palfrey’s blog here.


At a focus group today for the digital natives project (and our book, Born Digital), an interviewee mentioned VoteGopher.  It’s very clever: a site by students that helps you decide who to vote for.  The founder is a Harvard College sophomore, Will Ruben.  It’s a much more fun and interesting site that some of the traditional voter-information sites.  A combination of straightforward user-interface and lots of information goes a long way.  Check out the page on Barack Obama, then compare candidate positions on various issues.

– John P.

This post is cross posted on John Palfrey’s blog here.

A new kind of “nativism”

“Stop trying to be cool.”

Chances are you’ve either heard these words uttered by a teen, or uttered them yourself. Digital natives, whether out of territoriality or impatience, often get annoyed with their elders’ well meaning attempts to “assimilate.” Call it “digital nativism.”

Of course, the existence of resistance isn’t reason to give up. It’s still important for adults to try and reach out to younger people. The question is how to do this without being invasive or offputtingly clueless.

Recently, a couple of articles have reminded us of this dilemma. First, the Guardian reports on UK educators who are trying to “exploit their students’ passion for the new generation of interactive online communication tools … to deliver academic content.”

[A] research exercise carried out by the Joint Information Systems Committee (Jisc) … revealed, amazingly, that students want to be left alone. Their message to the trendy academics is: “Get out of MySpace!”

To be fair, the article wasn’t all one sided. The study concluded that educators need to tread carefully, but should still get involved. Moreover, the article suggested that students themselves may feel ambivalent about the “adult invasion.”

“Students appear to want their cake and eat it,” says Phipps. “They appear to want to keep their online persona private but when you ask them whether they’d like instant communication with tutors or feedback on essays (via Skype or Facebook) the answer is always yes.”

All this set an interesting backdrop for news, in the New York Times, about New York City’s aggressive plans to connect with students digitally.

The city is planning an intensive campaign that would use cellphones to help motivate students, most of them minorities and from poor families, in two dozen schools. … Every student in each of the schools will be given a cellphone.The effort, officials said, will use text messages — drawn up by an advertising agency and sent over the phones — that promote achievement.

It will be very interesting to see how this approach works. Based on my experience with schools trying to be cool, I’m skeptical. The Times article raises the possibility that students won’t bite – but it doesn’t consider the possibility that it will backfire.

Instructional Technology and Digital Natives

Last week, I attended the Presidential Instructional Technology Fellow’s Showcase here at Harvard. The PITFs, graduate students who work as teaching fellows for classes here, spent the summer working with faculty to develop pedagogical applications of technology. The results were impressive and demonstrate how some professors are using technology to better connect with and teach to DNs.

I really enjoyed learning about Professor Stephen Greenblatt’s course website for Humanities 27: An Imaginary Journey in the Early 17th Century. The teaching fellows and he collaborated with over 40 other individuals—librarians, scholars at Harvard and other institutions, curators at museums, and others—to develop an immersive, engaging website.

The course is designed around the journey of three imaginary ships that sail about the world to intersect with a variety of cultures, literary canons, and historical events. Multimedia informs this exploration in a variety of ways. Videos of interviews with professors that were unable to commit to a guest lecture are sprinkled about the different sections of the site, as are images of original documents and maps. A 3d tour of one of the ships supports the mission of understanding the environment in which explorers and travelers of the 17th century lived. Greenblatt begins each lecture by navigating the globe with Google Earth, showing the path of the ships and the routes they take. Finally, a class blog facilitates discussion and a feedback loop with which students share their individual research and comment on others.

I think that professors will use technology to make learning more engaging then ever as DNs arrive on college campuses across America. For now, most of the discussion as been about Facebook and MySpace, and how students are using them to network before they even arrive on campus (see a New Yorker article on the subject:, but this is only the surface. As Prensky points out in his essay, DNs enjoy learning in a different way. They like interactivity and the ability to output and produce information, not just receive it. I think it is wonderful to see instructors, especially of such classic topics as History or Literature, embrace new tools and techniques that better align with the styles of learning that DNs enjoy.

And Professors like it, too. Grennblatt was almost evangelical about teaching the course this way, and called the experience “transformative.” He noted that it has “changed the way [he] teaches the material.” That is, the same material he taught for years. This is not to say that the tools and helpful folks of yore are needless: librarians played a crucial role in developing the course website and presenting an array of resources with brief descriptions so that students can graze and “deep dive” while exploring research options. “Adapting the material for the new wave of students,” in my opinion, just means making the material more immersive, interactive, participatory, and engaging. Kudos to the professors, PITFs, and librarians that are driving this forward.

– Tony Pino, Cambridge, MA

Course Website Interactive Ship Tour Google Earth Narrative