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C is for Copyright

MIT’s conference last week on Scratch (an innovative programming tool for kids developed at MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten Project) seemed a whirlwind kind of event. Educators and technologists sprinted around the Media Lab, academics and school teachers discussed such juicy topics as digital literacy and copyright, and attractive swag (blue messenger bags with the friendly Scratch cat on them) abounded. I attended Sharing Issues: Intellectual Property and Scratch, a session featuring presentations by Berkman fellow Wendy Seltzer, Arizona lawyer Dan Pote, and Sociable Media Group director Judith Donath.

The issue up for discussion was this: according to the Scratch terms of use, all projects put online are licensed automatically with a Creative Commons license. This allows other users to take projects freely and distribute them or change them, so long as they give the original creator credit. Many users do not give each other credit, however, while others attempt to prevent re-use of their code by including the phrase “all rights reserved” in their projects. The speakers at the panel were asked how best to educate Scratch users about the intellectual property rules governing their work.

Each speaker took a different tack. Donath and Pote both used young peoples’ perspectives as a jumping off point – whether discussing why some kids like to copy and others don’t or showcasing how a user interacts with Scratch itself (I won’t get into their presentations here, though both were excellent). Seltzer’s presentation focused on intellectual property law itself – she gave the audience a crash-course in copyright, summing up its roots in the Constitution, its limitations, and the concept of fair use all in a few minutes.

The fact that Seltzer’s bit consisted largely of explanations of copyright highlights the reality that before educators can teach kids about IP issues, adults at large need to actually understand it. Seltzer does a fine job of explaining copyright – if she chose jet around the country giving basic lectures on intellectual property, we’d all benefit immensely. It doesn’t seem she’ll be free for a national tour anytime soon, however. What then?

In an age where everything is replicable and 64% of online youth 12-17 create Internet content, an understanding of copyright law is more necessary than ever before,. Intellectual property, however, is not a topic consistently taught in schools and not something that all adults understand or agree about. In previous eras, IP concerns were largely the domain of professional content creators, such as filmmakers trying to get the rights to a piece of music or famous figures looking to control use of their speeches. Now, though, being a good citizen (and avoiding an RIAA lawsuit) requires basic knowledge of these rules. In attempting to “update” their curricula for a new generation of students, educators have incorporated new media (such as the online classroom tool blackboard) into the classroom. If they really want to stay apace of digital trends, they’ll need to update what they teach as well, and many may need to get caught up on IP issues.

A quick class trip to might help.

Nikki Leon

Is Harvard Magazine Coping in a Digital Age?

We’re taking a break from “The Ballad of Zack McCune” this week to give you a glimpse into the world of print media — specifically, Harvard Magazine and the ways in which it is handling society’s shift towards the digital. As a small but growing pool of alumni trades reading class notes for skimming Facebook news feeds, how will alumni publications like Harvard Magazine continue to capture their interest? Cathy Chute, the magazine’s publisher, grappled with these questions and gave us some insight into Harvard Magazine’s current approach.

(This podcast was created and produced by Nikki Leon, with support and audio engineering by John Randall.)

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Come back every Wednesday for more videos on piracy, young entrepreneurs online, and other Digital Natives related topics!

Nikki Leon


According to the web-comic he posted online , Sean Travis Tevis was fed up with his anti-abortion, censorship promoting, anti-gay marriage, pro-intelligent design state representative, Arlen Siegfreid. Sean decided to run against him. He only needed 151 signatures to get on the ballot, but needed to raise $26,000 to run a decent campaign. So, like so many established and aspiring politicians today before him, he turned to the Internet.

But this plea for donations was different. Sean did not tap the “netroots,” (the left-leaning political blogosphere). Instead, he posted a simple website containing a web-comic telling his story. Using an Internet meme archetype to illustrate his absurd hometown political reality, he hit a nerve. Self-consciously designed utilizing simple xkcd-style stick-figures, and making a few quasi-insider-but-not-too-elitist geek references, he managed to simultaneously solicit outrage, empathy, and, most importantly, lots of donations.

Sean Travis 1

P.J. Huffstutter reported Sean’s story yesterday in the LA Times Huffstutter mentions Sean’s jokes about “down-modding” and “trolling.”, The story also identifies the stick-figure style as being based on the stick-figure illustrations found in xkcd, a popular web-comic by Randall Monroe (…an web-comic author who has somehow managed to earn a stylistic monopoly on stick figure drawings.) While Huffstutter describes the details accurately, I don’t think he realizes how significant these cultural touchstones are.

Sean is an insider of a growing internet sub-culture. By making quips about “down-modding” Arlen Siegfreid’s conservative ranting “below the thresh-hold” in the first frame of the comic, Sean is consciously proving himself to be an insider in a particular slice of a rich semantic web 2.0 / 3.0, social bookmaking, viral meme-generating online cultural space. Sean obviously lives in this space, as does his audience of donors. (Huffstutter’s style indicates that he is wading through at least somewhat unfamiliar territory in his LA Times article.) (Hang wrote this great post last week about masquerading as an insider not just by knowing a few facts, but by knowing the jokes and therefore demonstrating knowledge of the professional culture.)

This sub-culture is far larger and far more accessible than it ever was. The behaviors (and values?) of this space are going slightly more mainstream as a new generation of Digital Natives comes to occupy the space. Conversations and ideas that seem outlandish in suburbs across the nation have taken root online and drawn in new audiences through computer screens. These conversations have even leaked off the web into our newspapers, helping to make Al Gore a hero and Richard Dawkins culturally relevant.

By demonstrating that he is a cultural insider with this particular slice of internet-meme generating culture, Sean strikes a nerve that garners support on an emotional level. Sure, it helps that his politics agree with mine– but the cultural references in this comic signal more. Sean socializes the way I do, and derives pleasure from the things I derive pleasure from. Sean lives the way I do. The details of Sean’s politics aren’t important; Sean is -like me-, and therefore… of course Sean will fight for the things I would fight for.


This tactic, this emotional connection stemming from a feeling of likeness, has always been a powerful tool in politics. “That politician is a [religious group here], like me.” “That politician is a family man, like me.” “That politicians daddy was a coal-miner, and therefore worked as hard as my dad did.” “That politician speaks with a southern accent, like me.”

As a sub-culture becomes less insular and community grows, they realize that they actually have the power to create change.

Sean’s online culture has been testing the waters for a while now. In what has seemed like online mischief, they have used social networking sites to swarm news sites with precision timing to alter the results of online polls. In December, the whale adopted by Greenpeace was officially named Mr. Spashy Pants, the name that beat the runners up Humphrey, Aiko, Libertad, Mira, Kaimana, Aurora, Shanti, Amal and Manami with almost 80% of the vote. This particular community is also responsible for swarming countless MSNBC, ABC, and CNN online polls to express their support for Ron Paul, and swarming many other online polls to express a lack of religious belief. It was only a matter of time before the sub-culture graduated into real politics.

Perhaps Sean Travis embodies the next step in this sub-culture reaching for political power. By insinuating that anything is possible because “THIS IS THE INTERNET!” he is cracking open a new political reality. Unlike Jello Biafra, Sean might actually win.

Sean Travis 1

John Randall

A Day at Sub/Urban Justice

I had the good fortune to be able to spend half a day last week with the participants and staff of Sub/Urban Justice, a group of individuals and organizations “committed to transforming suburban and urban communities by supporting youth to develop a social justice perspective”, thus endowing them with leadership skills that will allow them to make positive changes in their respective school and communities. The Sub/urban justice summer program which takes place three times a week for three weeks, aims to break down the barriers that separate community like class, race and gender, and so create an equitable society.

The summer program works by discussing three topics (class, race and gender) individually for one week each and holding a number of activities that revolve around those issues. Coming from a country like Egypt, which is predominantly Muslim, sexual harassment and gender discrimination are day to day issues that women have to deal with. Thus, activism in relation to gender was a perfect place to start my experience in the program. The day started off with a simple discussion of terms relating to gender which may be difficult to define. I was suddenly swept into a gust of terms and definitions like ‘androgynous’, the difference between sex and gender and gender mutual pronouns like ‘zie’ (in place of he/she) and ‘hir’ (in place of him/her). Usage of these pronouns on a daily basis is a good place to start ones quest of becoming a more gender tolerant person because – as one participant pointed out – many cultures and languages (like Spanish or French) instill the use of addressing a whole group as male even if only one male is present.

The first activity was a process where participants, including myself, were asked to analyze where they perceive they fit into in categories like gender expression, biological sex, gender identity and sexual orientation. This led onto a discussion of where those issues could overlap and an interesting story of a man who believed he was a lesbian arose – thus depicting a complicated overlap in his gender expression and sexual orientation. The group then broke up into three different affinity groups based on how they perceive their gender- as male, female or androgynous. I joined the female group where the conversation was very similar to that of a group of friends sitting together to share their thoughts.

Recollections and experiences, where women have had to always think twice about their attire and the way they express their gender so as not to compromise their safety, were brought up. Topics – like sexual harassment, the way males use disrespectful terms towards women without a second thought, why women put each other down – which we all think about and are acquainted with but never discuss, were brought to light. I was deeply impressed – never had I witnessed anyone discuss such intimate topics with the ease and comfort of these women. And not just discussing, but tackling – the participants came up with solutions and requests that they would put out to men they know so as to improve the way with which women are perceived and also treated. Upon regrouping for feedback, I realized that this comfort extended to the others as well. While the males affinity group voiced their unease regarding the way males are always expected to take certain steps first (like ask a girl out on a date) and so are at times given responsibility they do not feel comfortable with, the androgynous affinity group discussed the issue of unisex bathrooms and other such day to day issues they have to deal with – all issues which we witness but never speak about.

And it is this relaxed, comfortable and welcoming atmosphere that is the real highlight of the Sub/Urban Justice program. My initial intention when going in had been to find areas in the curriculum where Berkman could help integrate digital tools. However, to the contrary, when going in and experiencing the program for myself I actually felt that a computer would simply ‘spoil’ the purity the program currently maintains.

Surprised? Well, so was I.

-Kanupriya Tewari

What is Facebook for?

Alice Marwick directed me to an interesting analysis on Facebook’s redesign, which posits that,

Facebook’s new design, as many of us have been noting since the company began testing it months ago, seems to emphasis features also seen in trendy new web services favored by us self-styled “early adopter” types.

Mark Slee of Facebook, in talking about the redesign, says:

The profile is very personal; it’s important to us that everyone have control over their own profile. Along those lines, once you’ve published stories or posted content, you can adjust the size to promote the things you care about most, and demote the stories you don’t find as interesting.

And in discussing the redesign with my friend BC yesterday, he noted that the redesign eliminated clutter, and that the news update had eaten the rest of Facebook: no more static pages. Taken together, it’s a clear change in stance for Facebook. Just as they’d re-adjusted to saturation within college campuses by opening it to everyone, they’re now positioning themselves in response to the rise of micro-blogging services like Twitter by centralizing the News Feed in its presentation – trying to corral those users they see spending more time and energy elsewhere.

I think this may be a key misstep by Facebook – because as “hot” as Twitter and similar services are, their actual user bases are still very, very small (a few percent of Facebook’s, even with explosive growth), if amplified by disproportionate representation in early-adopter communities like bloggers. But it’s not a shock that Facebook would be looking for a solution to some problem, at this point in its history: as my colleague Fred Stutzman noted last November, Facebook’s blessing is also its curse:

Ego-centric social network sites all suffer from the “what’s next” problem. You log in, you find your friends, you connect, and then…what? Social networks solve this problem by being situationally relevant. On a college campus, where student real-world social networks are in unprecedented flux, Facebook is a social utility; the sheer amount of social information a student needs to manage as they mature their social networks makes Facebook invaluable.

… What happens when a social network is no longer situationally relevant? Use drops off.

…Try as they might, once ego-centric social networks lose situational relevance, its pretty much impossible for them to retain their status.

…The coolest tools, the best exclusive media – these are only “fingers in the dam” to keep users in non-situationally relevant spaces.

This clarifies the problem. Facebook’s situational relevance for many users after the initial high-use, friend-finding phase – as an ego-centric social network, based on one’s connections to other individuals – either at college or in the post-college working world is not primarily about finding out what your friends are doing. Rather, it’s a low-involvement way of tracking where they are and where they go, and how to keep in touch with them. Ongoing research that Fred and I are conducting shows that even among current college students, the intensity of Facebook use and identification follows the familiar pattern of decline over time, even if it’s not abandoned entirely.

And Facebook is caught in a bind, because, having both accepted venture capital infusions and sold off a sliver to Microsoft, they now have a very particular interest to keep chasing: increased profit growth. For them, this means, exclusively, increased advertising revenues. synedochic has a long, detailed analysis of why this is a bad/hopeless place to be for social media enterprises (which are slightly different than social networking sites, but similar lessons apply here), but long story short: you can’t squeeze blood out of a rock, and chasing increased ad revenue with a user base whose use is already declining is a very self-defeating proposition.

The vast majority of Facebook users are still Digital Natives who’ve never had (high school or) college without also having Facebook. For them, it’s not simply a case of Facebook becoming passé – it’s a matter of their changing social needs, of shifting situational relevance. As they move into different social contexts – college, work, new cities – there may be bursts of activity where they add and approve new friendships, but it won’t be a “place” to spend time in the same way. Having a new Facebook where they can “adjust the size [of items] to promote the things you care about most, and demote the stories you don’t find as interesting” is beside the point if your relevant social reality is mostly taking place elsewhere – indeed, it’s just more things to ignore.

For all the worries about Digital Natives’ social lives moving to endless hours in front of the computer screen, preliminary research is showing very different effects: “a strong association between use of Facebook and… social capital.” Facebook, and social media generally, are a way to connect with friends, but not the place to connect with friends: that still happens mostly IRL, and ultimately it may be the case that after a “Facebook phase” of socially connecting, offline socialization may increase in aggregate over time (though that’s pure speculation on my part, for now). But the bottom line is that already-experienced Facebook users aren’t going to take on the characteristics of techie “early adopters,” and they aren’t going to go back to “hanging out” on Facebook. Redesigning layout to foreground the News Feed won’t change that.

Why are these issues worth such thorough examination? I believe that as especially Digital Natives come of age in a world of networked publics, where increasingly even offline actions are archived or accessible online, it’s important to follow the shape that the infrastructures of these publics take. While ultimately I do not believe that this redesign of Facebook will achieve the desired goal of restoring high usage levels among long-time users, it will, without a doubt, create a very different experience for newer users of Facebook (which has and will retain a central role in the social lives of millions of young people). For them, Facebook will become mostly about watching other people, and seeing what they do. Will they like it? Will it turn them into voyeurs, or make them more susceptible to suggestion and peer pressure? Will they identify more naturally in groups rather than as individuals? As always – more questions on which only time will tell.

Jacob Kramer-Duffield

The Ballad of Zack McCune, Part 2

Here’s the second installment of our three-part video “The Ballad of Zack McCune.” You can view part 1 here.

What do you do when you’re sued by the recording industry? And how do kids and teens reconcile the law (and corporate interests) with a culture of illegal downloading? Last year, Brown University student Zack McCune was faced with both of these questions. He explains…

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Look for a new Digital Natives podcast every Wednesday, now through October. And Watch Part 3 of Zack’s story here on August 6th.

The Ballad of Zack McCune, Part 1

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This video – “The Ballad of Zack McCune, Part I” – is the first of a three-part piece created by Nikki Leon and John Randall of the Digital Natives summer team. It marks another installment in our weekly “Digital Natives: Reporters in the Field” series, in which we delve into a variety of Digital-Natives-related topics.

In this video, we take a look at digital natives’ attitudes towards illegal downloading. Part I, posted here, is the introduction to Zack McCune’s story — how he got sued by the Recording Industry Association of America and what happened as a result. Part II examines the disconnect between youth and the recording industry, while Part III investigates how the experience got Zack interested in internet policy and the free culture movement.

Come back tomorrow for Part II, and stay tuned every Wednesday for new podcasts on cyberbullying, digital learning, online activism, and other Digital Natives issues!

UPDATE 7/23/08 Part 2 has been posted here.

Web-less Woes

February 2nd 10:00 AM: In my hotel room in Amsterdam – I’m here with a school trip to an MUN (Model United Nations) Conference – and packing my bags for our return flight to Cairo in the evening.

10:15 AM: Suddenly, my room mate bursts in:

– You are not going to believe this!
– What?
-There’s no Internet in Egypt!!
-You have got to be kidding me…….

My initial reaction, on hearing this not-so-spectacular piece of news, was evident disbelief; I really thought my friends were collectively playing a joke on me. Unfortunately, once they provided the evidence – headline news on all the major news sites on the web (all sanity had not been lost, and Internet was still available in Holland it seemed) – I had no choice but to face the music.

No Internet? The idea seemed ridiculous. And what more incredulous reason than because an underwater cable had been damaged?

News reports showed that a cable underwater off the coast of Dubai was cut at 05:59 GMT on Friday and that this was following a cable cut in the Mediterranean on Wednesday. Reports highlighted:

Damage triggered wide Internet outages, hampering businesses and private usage across the Mideast and Asia

With this news in my head, I grabbed the closest computer to me in the hotel lobby and initiated ticking off things one needs to do before going web-less:
– Check email inbox, and send last emails to loved ones, tick;
– Check MSN and tell everyone online about what has happened, tick;
– Check Facebook, MySpace and leave my status to explain my disappearance (so no-body gets worried), tick;
– Check weather, news, and essential entertainment gossip online, tick; and
– Finally kiss the Internet Explorer interface goodbye, tick.

I had ceremoniously parted with the Internet and ensured that I would survive the tremulous days ahead. But, being the naïve little Digital Native I am, I did not stop and think that if this was bad for me, it would definitely be much worse for others, especially those in commercial businesses. And it was.

Wireless Internet providers in Egypt were forced to give all customers a month of free Internet for the inconvenience caused – a substantial loss in revenue. Telecommunications companies were bombarded with complaints and inadvertently lost significant customer goodwill. Businessmen in general lost money; a friend’s father who was waiting for some documents to be sent via email for a crucial meeting with a client never got them and so lost out on big deal. The phrase ‘the end of the world’ no longer seemed as farfetched when I found Digital Natives, Internet consumers and providers all in utter chaos.

On a more personal level, after stepping off the plane and into my home, I noticed the hollow look my laptop had without the green ‘online’ icon. In school, sitting in the ICT (Internet and Computer Technology) room was a mockery, where my hand kept itching to check my email but which I knew would be futile.

On a more positive note, I can say that this incident afforded a rare opportunity for my friends and me to engage in greater “real-life” social interaction, as we now suddenly found ourselves spending more time discussing the latest gossip face to face (no more Facebook for that, remember?).

So, the incident was…I wouldn’t go as far as to say refreshing….but different, nonetheless.

Thursday July 17th 4:00 PM – In the Berkman Center’s kitchen, writing this blog post. Four months since The Incident, and still thankful that we have Internet!

-Kanupriya Tewari

How I Learned To Type (video)

This first video, “How I Learned to Type,” was created by Diana Kimball and Sarah Zhang of the Digital Natives team. It takes a glance into how people of different ages learned one of the first skills every digital inhabitant needs – typing. Do you “peck” with two fingers, type in multiple languages at once, or have a typing teacher with a wooden leg? The people in “How I Learned to Type” do all this and more. Digital technology has become so ingrained in our lives that for digital natives, learning to type has become a ubiquitous experience, as memorable, say, as learning to read or ride a bike.

Gearing up the project to support multiple forms of investigation, engagement, learning and fun, we’re proud to announce the start of our summer “Digital Natives: Reporters in the Field” series. In this series, we’ll be investigating the many themes of our project in true Digital Native style – through video, audio, and instant message chat interviews. Stay tuned as we talk to Digital Natives on the ground, discuss related issues with researchers, educators and innovators, and celebrate the upcoming August release of Born Digital.

Look for more podcasts on piracy, digital learning, online activism, and other topics. Stay tuned for the release of a new piece every Wednesday, and enjoy!

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Going Loca: Privacy in a digital world

As more and more of our lives become enmeshed in the digital world, more and more of our lives are detected, stored, and compiled by the digital systems that serve us. As we call friends on cell phones, navigate streets with GPS systems, login to Facebook from our notebooks, and swipe our employer IDs at cafeteria cashiers, bits of data are collected about us, stored, and compiled in various databases, owned by diverse entities. This collection of digital tracks that we leave behind add up to form our digital dossier.

Compiled all together, this data can say a lot about us. But who has access to this data? How is it collected, and how is it stored? And what rights do you have over your own data? These are important questions to ask – especially for Digital Natives, who are leaving digital tracks from birth, compiling a digital dossier vaster and more detailed than any generation that has come before.

What does this mean for Digital Natives? What does this mean for the future?

Our research indicates that Digital Natives are often unaware of the data that is being collected about them, and what this means for their privacy. The young people we talked to that were aware of privacy concerns often became so after a “learning moment” – something happened to them that made them uncomfortable, and think twice about their privacy online.

Learning by error can work, but it can also be costly. How do we teach youth (and adults, for that matter) to be aware of the data that is being collected about them, to be wary of privacy issues, and to become informed actors in the debate over the ever growing market of information in our new digital world? This is a question we grapple with here at the Digital Natives project, and at the Berkman Center more widely.

A group of designers – John Evans, Drew Hemment, Theo Humphries, and Mike Raento – have come up with one interesting way. They’ve designed a grass roots surveillance system called Loca.

Loca aims to enable people to question the networks they populate, and to expose the disconnect between people and the trails of digital identities they leave behind.

The creators of Loca used old mobile phones to create a monitoring system that tracks all mobile phone users in the vicinity that have their Bluetooth set to discoverable. The system collects data on individuals’ whereabouts, tracking users’ movements, and sending users messages in response to knowledge of their whereabouts. Individuals in the area with mobile phones, without doing anything, receive messages such as:

We have seen you here five times in the last three days.


You spent 30 minutes in the park and then walked past the flower stall. Are you in love?

After such a message spooks a user, it then challenges people to think. Users also receive a message indicating the whereabouts of the Loca headquarters, where they can scan their mobile phone and receive a printout of the every time and location where the system detected them, providing a physical manifestation of the surveillance of their movements.

As the Loca video below explains,

Messages sent to users make the presence of the network know, and illustrate the types of data that can be gathered, and the inferences that can be drawn from it…[Loca] aims to raise awareness of the networks we inhabit, and provoke people to questioning them.

Loca brings up interesting questions for users who were tracked in San Jose, California at ISEA2006. But what about those of us who will never encounter this provocative system? Reading privacy agreements is boring, and can be very confusing. How can we bring awareness to the privacy issues raised by our ever growing digital dossier – and encourage people to think critically – in fun and educational ways?

Living in a digital world makes many things more convenient, available, and even simply possible to achieve. But often, the very tool that makes something good – like mobile activism – possible, also raises concerns in other areas, like privacy. Privacy laws need to safeguard the individuals whose data is being collected. But individuals – especially Digital Natives, who are growing up in a digital world, and will come to lead us into our digital future – need to take an active role in the formation of a society that deals with information and privacy in a responsible and human-centered way. The first step in addressing the issues of information collection, retention, and sharing – and the concern for the future of privacy – is by raising awareness.

– Miriam Simun

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