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Girl Scouts, Born Digital

Looks like it’s not only the music industry that needs a new business model, even Girl Scouts selling cookies are running into issues with online sales.

Well the issue is quite simple really: online sales aren’t allowed. When 8-year-old Wild Freeborn set out to sell 12,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, she enlisted the help of her tech-savvy father. The two made a YouTube video and set up a site to allow local customers to order boxes of cookies. Freeborn would then hand-deliver the cookies. What was the problem? After two weeks and 700 orders, parents involved with the local troupe approached the local Girl Scout council saying that Freeborn’s strategy was unfair, lionizing the local cookie market.

The issue, Girl Scouts said, was that not the YouTube video – advertising sales online is okay – but the online order form. Online sales for the troupe as a whole, however, are okay. In a New York Times article, a few more details were given for the reasons behind the national Girl Scouts no-online-sales policy:

Michelle Tompkins, a spokeswoman for the Scouts, says there are good reasons for the online ban, beginning with the familiar dangers that young girls can encounter on the Web. Beyond that, Ms Tompkins says, is the issue of fairness: local councils typically award prizes to girls for reaching certain levels of sales, and since all girls are limited to selling within their local areas, a campaign like Wild’s can overwhelm opportunities for other girls in town.

It seems a little instigative to mention safety concerns first – I can’t imagine any scenarios where online sales would actually be less safe than going door-to-door. Ms. Tompkins does cite valid points about online sales disrupting the traditional process of selling cookies though. But maybe the problem isn’t the Internet, maybe it’s the process itself?

In an age when I can even buy Justin Timberlake’s French toast, it’s strange that I can’t buy something prosaic as a box of Girl Scout cookies from the Internet. In fact, I can – just not legitimately. A quick search just on eBay turns up a couple hundred listings for Girl Scout cookies, with sellers varying from parents of Scouts to resellers. Newsweek points out that Girl Scouts missed out on what could have been a teachable moment here. Selling the cookies is after all, an exercise in entrepreneurship as well as a fundraiser for troupes. If a young digital native is savvy enough to take advantage of the digital sphere, maybe there shouldn’t be anything stopping her.

Education is a big theme of Born Digital, and while Girl Scouts shouldn’t be held solely responsible for teaching young girls about using the Internet, the badges that require technology skills seem designed for an earlier decade:

[T]he “Computer Smarts” requirement for young girls (or “Brownies”) only requires that they visit three Web sites. For older girls, the CyberGirl Scout badge is earned in part by sending an e-mail. “These skills are at a level I’m sure many girls can already surpass,” says Andrea Matwyshyn, a colleague of Fader’s at Wharton.

The competitive world of Girl Scout cookies sales is fraught with tensions of its own – the role of parents playing no small part. But with Girl Scout cookie sales declining this year, it can’t hurt to think outside of the proverbial cookie box.

Digital Natives as Customers and Critics

Aside from being innovators themselves, Digital Natives are also forcing businesses to innovate. The entertainment industries, confronted with the breakdown of traditional distribution models for music and movies, are one particular striking example. But this is also true on a more microlevel – even for local businesses. Let’s take Yelp as an example.

A website for user-generated reviews of local businesses, Yelp started in the San Francisco area and has since spread to every major US city and dozens of smaller ones. The social networking aspects of Yelp, which allowed users to interact and essentially review the reviews, catapulted it into popularity. It currently boasts 16 million unique visitors per month and personally, Yelp has become my de facto guide to the city. When I headed to Chicago on my own for two months this summer, I didn’t buy a single guide book, confident that I could find my way around with Yelp and Google Maps.

When Yelp becomes such a popular authority on local businesses, they start paying attention. For local businesses that especially rely on word of mouth, the site is probably the best place to take the pulse of customers. For Digital Natives, Yelp provides a forum for feedback and participation. Businesses themselves would be wise to join in on this conversation.
Of course, the picture isn’t always rosy and perhaps the toughest part of Yelp is the critical reviews. So how do businesses deal with negative reviews? Certainly not by further alienating your critics with signs saying, “No Yelpers.”

The San Francisco Business Times reported on a Restaurant Bootcamp in San Francisco that focused exclusively on the question, “What is your Yelp strategy?” Various restaurateurs mentioned inviting top Yelpers to pre-opening parties, personally contacting disgruntled reviewers, and taking into consideration specific feedback from Yelp reviews. The fact of the matter is, Yelp is very much on the radar for small businesses. A presence on Yelp, along with accurate information and photos, is crucial for a business craving out an online reputation.

Innovation here isn’t just about local businesses taking advantage of digital word of mouth, but also Yelp’s savvy in building its own credibility. Many of my favorite haunts around town boast a “People Love Us on Yelp” sticker, so whenever I watch into new stores with the same sticker, I know I can rely on a trusted brand. Yelp has also been leveraging its power to make and break online reputations into partnerships with local businesses. With these strategies, it has also come under a fair amount of scrutiny lately for supposedly manipulating the placement of positive/negative reviews based paid partnerships.

Yelp is of course just one site in the larger constellation of services of which businesses can take advantage. Businesses need to adjust to an environment where the customer feedback loop is constant and accessible to everyone. The Internet has opened up all these tools for communication, but the tool needs to fit the task at hand. Simply creating a Facebook Page, a Twitter account and a profile on every social networking site is a scattershot approach. Yelp, for example, is fantastic for local businesses looking to distinguish themselves from the competition, but less useful for chain stores where the goal is, essentially, an identical experience in every chain. Innovations isn’t just jumping on the social networking bandwagon, but figuring out which tools are best.

-Sarah Zhang

Internet Draws Masses for ‘Silent Dance’ Experiment

In this week’s video, Diane Kimball and Sarah Zhang take us into the world of the “silent dance experiment” – a silent, synchronized dance party which, with the help of the Internet, drew throngs of people from all over Boston, the US, and the world to Faneuil Hall in Boston in February.

Such “flash mob” happenings have picked up in popularity over the last few years thanks to the publicity they have gained through blogs, online event pages, and most especially Facebook. Of the event in Boston, one site wrote, this “silent dance party involves a large group of people assembling at a given area on a pre-decided time. They mill around inconspicuously, and at the signal (in this case, an airhorn), insert their headphones into their ears, hit play on their portable music player and start dancing as passersbys confusingly look on as a swarm of people dance in silence.”

You can check out this hilarious, spontaneous production below:

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Enjoyed this video? Look out for more Reporters-in-the-Field productions every week.

Mideast Youth: Providing platforms for public voice

This week’s “Digital Natives Reporters in the Field” series turns the microphone over to Esra’a Al Shafei of Bahrain, the 21-year-old director of student-owned

The mission of MideastYouth is “to inspire and provide young people with the freedom and opportunity of expression, and facilitate a fierce but respectful dialogue among the highly diverse youth of all sects, socio-economic backgrounds, and political and religious beliefs in the Middle East.” fights for social change with podcasts, blogs, social networks, and online video.

In this podcast, Esra’a talks about the ability of the internet to empower minorities with a voice, the mission of, and the change it has sparked in the world.

Listen to the podcast

And learn more about Esra’a, winner of Berkman Award for Internet Innovation, who when not “kicking butt” directing the ever impressive MideastYouth platform, “enjoys drinking flavored milk and writing about herself in 3rd person to remind herself of her existence.”


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

Unveiling the Veil – on the web

The veil?

And that’s where many of us would simply end the discussion.

The issue of the veil is one that raises a red flag for many; it has on innumerable occasions lead to heightened emotions that at times culminate in drastic acts of violence. Many now approach the topic as a ‘danger-zone’ of sorts; afraid that it may spiral into debate rather than discussion. But there are signs that new modes of communication and Digital Natives may be changing this.

Women’s battles for or against the veil are long-standing, but it seems that recently the battle field has been moved to the Internet, through the mediums of blogs and social networking sites (SNS). Most of these discussions have not been Muslim vs. Non-Muslim, but rather between Muslims. Bloggers like Lisam have started to create online spaces simply entitled ‘Head Coverings’ where anyone and everyone is able to freely express their views- a phenomenon which has only been brought about with the turn of this decade.

Such a multitude of Muslim women’s voices, especially of those living in the Middle East, is a genuinely new thing. And it seems the initiative, for this fight for freedom of speech, has been taken up by the younger generation, namely Digital Natives. Perhaps most surprising is the increase in males online who support the removal of the veil – a clear signal of progress in the minds of many Muslim women.

Political and social issues are often taken up by Digital Natives on social networking sites but now more and more groups on Facebook and on other sites like MySpace are being dedicated to the cause of discussing the veil. What is important to note is how this once unapproachable topic has literally unveiled itself to the world with the help of Digital Natives and the tools and mediums available on the Internet. The Internet, with its lessened degree of intimacy as opposed to face to face conversations, has allowed many to gain enough confidence to say what they really think, without the fear of being hunted down or physically attacked. Thus, the Internet has bridged the gap between Muslims, especially women, all around the world – living up to its promise of global connection and mediation.

But this young uprising has not gone unnoticed, especially in countries in the Middle East with Iran having banned high-speed Internet in 2006 so as to “cut the West’s influence” and Egypt contemplating a total ban on Facebook. Nevertheless, the voices haven’t been stifled completely.

Muslims living abroad are taking up the initiative and increasingly using blogs and social networking sites as microphones for their thoughts. With the introduction of “Fullah”– the veiled version of Barbie – have come calls for avatar based sites like Second Life to provide more options of veiled avatars.

Fullah- Veiled Barbie Doll

Whether this call is attended to is yet to be seen, but what we can acknowledge is the extent to which this topic has been realised and opened up on the web; it signifies not only an improvement for society as a whole but also provides a positive notion in the midst of so many negatives that are attached to our exponentially growing digital world.

The veil?

Well, now it’s no longer a question that needs to be avoided.

-Kanupriya Tewari

Digital Natives, by a digital native from Germany

I am proud to be invited to write a guest post here for the Digital Natives blog of Harvard’s Berkman Center. It all started with sending an email to Urs Gasser, who is one of the heads of the team. As a Digital Native myself, I know best how they behave, how they think, and how they “work.” I know, my words reveal no new discovery, but I am not a researcher — I am just a digital native writing down his perspective…

German teenagers don’t really behave differently from their companions in the US. What is different are their primary social networks, where they upload photos, publish guestbook posts, and discuss in groups. There is StudiVZ for students or SchülerVZ for younger children. They are a complete copy cat of Facebook, which does not play a role in German children’s lives.

SchülerVZ and StudiVZ both have an enormous reach. More than 90 percent of students in my class and probably the same percentage in my age-group are registered. Those who don’t use it don’t exist. It’s often used for sharing photos; “traditional” photo sharing sites likes Flickr are not used. The two social networks don’t offer the same degree of functions and features that Facebook does (for example there is no open API), but what is interesting for me to see is the fact that they both allow you to share short messages with your friends, like Twitter does. And this feature is used a lot – believe me. But if you ask me, I would suggest they offer a txt-based Microblogging tool as well. That’s firstly a way to monetize it and secondly a new way for the users to send messages.

To speak more generally (and not simply about German youth), teenagers at large don’t have an understanding of copyright and ownership of digital goods. They want to share, want to mix, and want to edit. They can’t understand why it is not okay to go to Wikipedia, print a page, and use it for a speech. Anyway, that’s how they still do it. Most of their created presentations are totally or partly rip-offs and plagiarism. But teachers – especially the older ones – simply fail to discover them, and so it’s not punished, and there are no consequences for the students. Although they know it’s illegal, they do it, just because they can and because they know nothing else. Besides the school-related illegal sharing, there are of course downloading and sharing of songs, movies and other stuff. I don’t know whether that is because students do not have the needed money for buying every interesting movie or just because those things are too expensive.

Mobile phones are children’s toys of choice and primary tools of communication. Nearly every single person in school has one – which can be an advantage but also a torture. Cyberbullying can start with taking photos of people you don’t like and sending them to your friends or editing them with mobile photo editors. Since mobile phones became practical MP3 players, they have become a plague. Wherever you go, music played aloud bothers you if it’s not your taste of music. But, to be honest, I am one of these troublemakers myself. Teachers have to deal with that and with students playing during the lessons instead of listening.

To point out one of the major differences between students and adults: young people don’t use email to communicate with their friends. It’s just not important, because it’s just not fast enough. They use IM or social networks to communicate with their friends. That’s also a much better way to meet new people, because you don’t know what the person looks like in an email. With social networks, you even know how you are connected to them (maybe you share the same friends or attend the same school). Of course, they all have an email account (you need it to register to SchülerVZ and StudiVZ of course) but if they use it, they do so only for sending big files and attachments.

I didn’t want this to become something like egotainment, so I decided to mention the things I do last. I am 16 years old and attending Realschule in Germany but will change to a new school soon. In my later life, I want to become a journalist. I was also one of the organizors of BarCampHannover.

It was my idea in July 2007 to write a post about why we should do a BarCamp here in Hanover (known for the largest exhibition ground in the world, the EXPO2000 and the annual CeBIT). Some people answered and we formed an organization team – of which I was the youngest, followed by some university students. I was responsible for sponsoring affairs and asked some of my entrepreneur friends to help us. In February 2008, we successfully finished our work with BarCampHannover. During this time, we met several times for organizational meetings, and, because everybody knew how old I was, they all respected me, even though I “fighted” several discussions. You must know, I am not one of these guys who hides his opinion. But it was a lot of fun and a great experience for life. In addition to that, I am the organizer of Lunch 2.0 in Germany, which had its first anniversary in May.

When I first met Sören Stamer, CEO of CoreMedia AG, in August 2007, he told me about his idea of doing a workshop for teenagers to discuss things like “How has the Internet influenced your life?” or “How would you like to work in the future?”. In December, we realized this idea and created the “Delle im Universum” (Dent in the universe), where CoreMedia employees, Sören the CEO, some of their partners, I, and a friend of mine met. We talked some hours about our future plans and played foosball after the workshop in a relaxed atmosphere.

Last month, Sören attended the so-called “Deutscher IT-Gipfel” (German IT summit), organized by the German Government, where IT people and high-ranking German politicians gather to discuss ideas. In his workgroup, Sören introduced the idea of the “Delle,“ and together they fine-tuned the plan and got new ideas. One of these was a competition where teenagers can upload their thoughts in a video. The best ones, selected by a jury, will be invited to meet with the workgroup (Deutsche Telekom is one of its members) and get the chance to meet the German chancellor Angela Merkel.

I liked organizing the BarCamp. Because I am a teenager and want to spread the thoughts we have, I am tinkering with the idea of organizing another conference, maybe even an unconference, about Teens in the Internet. There are already plans to do something similar in Germany, but with a different focus: while I want to gather people within this context and have experts talk about this topic (even older ones), the other unconference currently in development would have younger bloggers go to a BarCamp. The issue is really unresolved, and I am still searching for people to help me. If you are interested, use the email address below.

In case you have any questions, would like to give feedback, or just want to get in touch, here’s how: mail at timoheuer com (I choose email to demonstrate that not all the teenagers don’t use it..)

Timo Heuer

SCVNGR: Digital Rubber Hits the Literal Road

Cross-posted from the blog of a soon-to-be Digital Natives summer intern—Nikki Leon, from Princeton.
Welcome to the team, Nikki! Original version, with links, here.

Seth Priebatsch is pretty damn smart — and I’m not just saying that because he’s a Princeton Engineer. This afternoon, with the help of computer programmers (and fellow Princeton frosh) Josh Budofsky and Val Karpov, Priebatsch launched the first-ever SCVNGR hunt. SCVNGR hunt is a new kind of treasure hunt that combines the immediacy (and product promo potential) of mobile technology with the running, clue-solving, and team play of a traditional scavenger hunt. There were over a hundred players — Princeton students participating both alone and in teams — who registered by texting to the designated SCVNGR short code. They then received various clues urging them to go to specific locations on the Princeton campus and/or to send back a txt or picture (snapped on their phones, no less) containing the solution to a given clue. Prizes included a Nintendo Wii, gift certificates, and, of course, a free hat.

SCVNGR (Priebatsch’s startup, which hosted the SCVNGR hunt) is remarkable because it is representative of two New Media trends. The first of these is a shift towards using mobile technology to link digital interaction to a specific location in order to foster more personal, face-to-face contact. This trend has already been evinced by a few digital signage firms. Among these is LocaModa, a Cambridge, MA company that provides the technology for people to interact on large screens in public places with their mobile phones (in February, they launched a giant digital word game called Jumbli on a screen in Times Square). The second trend SCVNGR indicates is simply that of the rise of the “Digital Native” (i.e. those of us raised in an already-digital world). Most notably, Priebatsch, Budofsky, and Karpov are not just digesting pre-existing digital content, but they are expanding platforms for new content as well.

SCVNGR gives me hope for the Digital Native. The group’s efforts seem to counteract the one thing that has always bothered me about “DNs” (and I am definitely one myself): DNs’ very ease with and dependance on digital media makes them especially vulnerable to the tricks of advertisers and other profit-interested businesspeople of a slightly older generation. This is because the web is a platform like no other for tracking personal data and launching complex adver-experiences. Examples of this are product sponsored online advergames like the Coke Zero Game; info-snooping, advertiser-oriented apps like Facebook’s Beacon; and the strange quasi-webseries / quasi-social-network quarterlife, which features plenty of product placement. SCVNGR, however, is a sign that Digital Natives are gaining the ability to cater to each other and not just be catered to (and manipulated). Granted, SCVNGR is for-profit, and Priebatsch is a shrewd businessman whose prior experience in the digital postcard business shows: after my 90 minutes of SCVNGR participation, I was rewarded with a coupon to a local ice cream shop. All the same, the fact that a fellow DN is behind both the promo and the game makes me somewhat more comfortable — it’s a sign that the process of creating digital content has been democratized.

I have no doubt that SCVNGR will be successful, though to what degree I can’t predict. SCVNGR, or at least its concept, has already seen approval: in February, Priebatsch won the TigerLaunch Business Plan Competition with his plans for the startup. Using their new funding, Priebatsch, Budofsky, and Karpov are relocating SCVNGR to Philadelphia this summer and will have some new additions to the company.

There’s no website yet, but check out the SCVNGR hunt event on facebook, and an article in the Daily Princetonian.


Boston Silent Dance Experiment

A thoroughly modern event took place at Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall this Saturday. Braving the snow and the cold, about 400 people turned up for Boston’s First Silent Dance Experiment!

Silent dances, also called flash mobbing or mobile clubbing, have been organized in cities all over the world to great success. They are a particular consequence of digital technology. Organized and publicized entirely through the Internet, carried out with mp3 players, silent dances are only possible because of our technology.

Unlike most other silent dances though, the participants here in Boston weren’t dancing each to their own music. Bandito, Misteriosos, the group organizing the event, put out an mp3 that gave out directions to all the dancers — pose like The Thinker, swim, swing dance, march….. Amazingly, everyone was in sync. iPods are usually thought of as isolating — we plug in our earbuds and tune out the rest of the world — but here they went into creating a sense of community.

If you’re in the Boston area and interested in such future experiments, look at the Banditos Misteriosos‘ homepage. (A past pillow fight was a great success too.) Also up is the original mp3 for those curious as well as photos and videos from the Silent Dance. Our own Digital Natives video to come soon!

MacArthur/MIT Press Series on Youth, Media, and Learning

(Cross posted from Dr. Palfrey’s blog.

Last month, the MacArthur Foundation, along with MIT Press, announced the release of a series of new books on youth and new media. The series is a treasure trove.

I have been working my way through the six books over the past several weeks as I’m simultaneously working on late drafts of the book that Urs Gasser and I are writing on a similar topic, called Born Digital (forthcoming, Basic Books, 2008).

I’d highly recommend to anyone remotely interested in the topic to read these books. They are academic in style, structure and language, but remarkably accessible in my view. I’m not a social scientist, nor an expert in most of the fields that are represented by the authors (in fact, I’m not sure if there are any lawyers at all in the list of authors!), but the editors and authors have done a lovely job of making their fields relevant broadly.

For starters, the series Foreword, by the group of “series advisors,” is wonderful. I can’t imagine how six people came to agree on such a clear text, but somehow they did. There must have been a lead author who held onto the pen; it’s far too coherent to have been written by committee. (The advisors are: Mizuko Ito, Cathy Davidson, Henry Jenkins, Carol Lee, Michael Eisenberg, and Joanne Weiss. One imagines that the voice of the program officer at the MacArthur Foundation who made it all possible, Connie Yowell, is in there somewhere too.)

The Foreword is worth reading in full, but a few key lines: “Unlike the early years in the development of computers and computer-based media, digital media are now commonplace and pervasive, having been taken up by a wide range of individuals and institutions in all walks of life. Digital Media have escaped the boundaries of professional and formal practice, and the academic, governmental, and industry homes that initially fostered their development.” Those are simple statements, clear and right on. One of the reasons to pay attention to this topic right now is the pervasiveness, the commonplace-ness of the use of these new media, especially by many young people.

Also, their working hypothesis: “those immersed in new digital tools and networks are engaged in an unprecedented exploration of language, games, social interaction, problem solving, and self-directed activity that leads to diverse forms of learning. These diverse forms of learning are reflected in expressions of identity, how individuals express independence and creativity, and in their ability to learn, exercise judgment, and think systematically.” The work of the series authors, I think, bears out this hypothesis quite convincingly.

At the same time, the series advisors make plain that they are not “uncritical of youth practices” and note that they do not claim “that digital media necessarily hold the key to empowerment.” It is this spirit of healthy skepticism that one can hear through most of the essays in the series — and which is essential to the academic enterprise they’ve undertaken.

So far, I’ve finished the book on “Youth, Identity, and Digital Media” (ed. by David Buckingham) and “The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning” (ed. by Katie Salen) and am part of the way through each of the others. Each one is excellent.

In the ID book, I found particularly helpful the first piece on “Introducing Identity” by David Buckingham, which took on the hard definitional and discipline-related questions of identity in this context. He put a huge amount of scholarship into context, with sharp critiques along the way. The essay by our colleague danah boyd (on “Why Youth (heart) Social Network Sites,” a variant of which is online) is already a key document in our understanding of identity and the shifts in conceptions of public and private (”privacy in public,” and the idea of the networked public — related to but not the same as Yochai Benkler’s similar notions of networked publics). And the notion of “Identity Production as Bricolage” — introduced in “Imaging, Keyboarding, and Posting Identities” by Sandra Weber and Claudia Mitchell — is evocative and helpful, I thought. The many warnings about not “exociticizing” (danah often using the word “fetishizing”) the norms and habits of young people and their use of technology, as well as echoes of Henry Jenkins’ work on convergence and his and Eszter Hargittai’s study of the participation gap came through load and clear, too. (I am pretty sure I can hear dislike of the term “digital natives” in between certain lines, as well.)

There’s much more to like in the book, and much more to work into our own understanding of ID in this environment, than I can post here. There’s an equal amount of insight in the Games book too. (The class I am co-teaching with David Hornik starts in 31 minutes and I should probably prepare a bit more than I have already.)

John Palfrey