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Discussing ‘Born Digital’ with European Students

(Cross posted from Dr. Gasser’s blog)

John Palfrey and I are getting tremendously helpful feedback on the draft v.0.9 of our forthcoming book Born Digital (Basic Books, German translation with Hanser) from a number of great students at Harvard and St. Gallen Law School, respectively. Last week, John and I had an inspiring conversation about the current draft with our first readers on this side of the Atlantic: a small, but great and diverse group of law students here at The students, coming from Switzerland, Germany, France, Singapore, and the U.S., were kind enough to share their feedback with us based on reaction papers they’ve drafted in response to assigned book chapters.

Today, the second session took place. John and I are currently revisiting the final chapter of the book. The “final” chapter, of course, is by no means “final” – even not if it once becomes a chapter of the printed book. What we’re trying to do is simply to synthesize some of the things we’ve said so far, and to look ahead once again and ask ourselves how the digital world will look like for our kids given the things we know – and we don’t know – about their digital lives. In this spirit, the last chapter of the book in particular is an open invitation to join the discussion about the promises and challenges of the Internet for a population that is born digital. Against this backdrop, we prepared three discussion questions for today’s session here in St. Gallen.

First, what do you think is the greatest opportunity for Digital Natives when it comes to digital technologies? Second, what are you most concerned about when thinking about the future of the Internet? Third, what approach – generically speaking – seems best suited to address the challenges you’ve identified?

Here are the students’ thoughts in brief:

Greatest opportunities:

  • Democratizing effect of the net: DNs can build their own businesses without huge upfront investments (Rene, Switzerland)
  • ICT enables networking among people across boundaries (Catrine, Switzerland)
  • Encourages communication among DNs (Pierre-Antoine, France)
  • Increased availability of all kind of information, allows fast development and sharing ideas among DNs (Jonas, Germany)
  • Availability of information, DN can go online and find everything they’re looking for; this shapes, e.g., the way DNs do research; as a result, world becomes a smaller place, more common denominators in terms of shared knowledge and culture (Melinda, Switzerland)
  • Efficiency gains in all areas, including speed of access, spread of ideas, … (Eugene, Singapore)

Greatest challenges, long-term:

  • Problem of losing one’s identity – losing cultural identity in the sea of diversity (Eugene, Singapore)
  • Dependency on technology and helplessness when not having the technology available; DNs are becoming dependent on technology and lose ability to differentiate b/w reality and virtuality; other key challenge: bullying (Melinda, Switzerland)
  • Who will get access to the digital world – only the wealthy kids in the West or others, too? Digital divide as a key problem (Jonas, Germany)
  • Addiction: DNs are always online and depend so much on Internet that it may lead to addictive behavior (Pierre-Antoine, France)
  • DNs can’t distinguish between offline and online world, they can’t keep, e.g. online and offline identities separate (Catrine, Switzerland)
  • Notion of friendship changes; DNs might forget about their friends in the immediate neighborhood and focus solely on the virtual (Rene, Switzerland)

Most promising approaches:

  • Teach digital natives how to use social networks and communicate with each other; law, in general, is not a good mode of regulation in cyberspace (Rene, Switzerland)
  • Technology may often provide a solution in response to a technologically-created problem like, e.g., privacy intrusion (Catrine, Switzerland)
  • Don’t regulate too much, otherwise people won’t feel responsible anymore; education is key, help people to understand that it’s their own responsibility (Pierre-Antoine, France)
  • The laws that are currently in place suffice (except in special circumstances); learning is key, but who shall be the teacher (since today’s teachers are not DNs)? (Jonas, Germany)
  • Generic legal rules are often not the right tool, problems change too fast; instead, kids need general understanding of how to handle technology; goal could be to strengthen their personality in the offline world so that they can transfer their confidence, but also skills to the online world (Melinda, Switzerland)
  • Technology will most likely help DNs to solve many of the problems we face today; education is the basis, but focus needs to be on the question how to put education from theory into practice (Eugene, Singapore)

As always, we were running short in time, but hopefully we can continue our discussion online. Please join us, and check out our project wiki (new design, many thanks to Sarah!), our new DN blog, or for instance our Facebook group. John, our terrific team, and I are much looking forward to continuing the debate!

-Urs G.

Hollywood Writers: putting their pencils down to strike, bloging to communicate

The other day I was browsing videos on when I stumbled upon a video called “The Office is Closed”. In this video a number of writers from the ABC show “The Office” were venting their frustration and supporting the writers’ strike. Almost a month ago, on November 5th, 2007, members of The Writer’s Guild of America began the first strike Hollywood has seen in 20 years. As you have probably seen on the news or read online, the writers of the WGA have stopped all work and have forced TV series and talk shows to revert to reruns. I had heard about the strike but didn’t know much about the specifics, so I decided to do some research. I went to the WGA official website and found a list of demands. The first demand listed on their official website is the following: “address coverage and minimums for writing for the Internet and other non-traditional media…” This particular demand captivated my attention because, while I don’t watch TV, I definitely sneak in episodes of The Office in between checking my email and doing research online. After reading the list of demands, I found my way to There, I watched a three minute youtube video titled “Why We Fight” where I learned everything I needed to know about the strike. It seems that writers are not receiving any compensation for the episodes that are aired online in websites such as, or As a growing number of fans begin to watch their favorite shows online, writers worry, and I think rightly, that their compensations will continue to shrink.

The strike is not only massive in its presence on the streets, its presence on the Internet is growing every day and it is reaching more and more people. An article in the Associated Press titled “Striking Hollywood Writers Vent Online” mentions different blogs and videos on that have been created by the writers and supporters expressing their frustrations. Individuals are responding to the writers’ blogs either expressing their support, or disagreeing with the riots. Many have decided to stop watching shows online until the writers get their fair share, while others have made their own youtube videos to voice their opinions.

If you have been browsing the Internet recently you might have seen how the writers have taken on the Internet – the same tool the studios and networks have been using to increase their earnings through online ads, while avoiding compensations to the writers – as a tool to bring in supporters and to communicate their demands. Digital Natives are more susceptible to content online and are more likely to pay attention and respond if this content is creative and innovative. Given their strong presence online, writers and their supporters are certainly reaching a larger audience with their creative use of digital media.