Digital Natives Myth-Busting Session at Berkman@10

Our session on Digital Natives as part of the unconference day 2 is focused on Myth-Busting. We put up on the conference wiki a bunch of myths online that we’ve been working to bust (or to affirm). Our mode is to put these myths to the attendees, see which ones they would like to discuss, and dig in where the group is most interested.

My co-author (of a forthcoming book, Born Digital) and friend Urs Gasser is opening up with a framework for study of the Digital Natives issues we’re focused on. His steps include a descriptive, analytical, evaluative, and prescriptive.

Of the eight myths we posted, the one that got the most votes and comments from the group was about wasting time online. Precisely, it was this one that got people going: “Digital Natives are wasting time online. –> Young people are learning, gaining skills, and becoming collaborative, critical and informed members of society through their online and digital engagements.”

It was fortuitous to be in Langdell North classroom at HLS for this discussion. It was one of the rooms renovated in the late 1990s by the HLS administration with Ethernet jacks, only for the faculty to decide promptly to turn off those Ethernet jacks. It is one of the great puzzles of the Digital Natives topic: once we get access to the Internet and related technologies into the room, what then should we have students do with those technologies?

In my own teaching, I think I under-leverage the technologies in the room. Students are, almost 100%, online on a laptop in the classes that I’m teaching here.  I certainly haven’t figured it out. I’m not sure if anyone I know, with the exception of Jonathan Zittrain, has figured that out yet.  I don’t accept that young people are just wasting time online, but I also don’t think that teachers are doing anywhere near enough to help them to use that online time wisely, during class time or otherwise.

A Kick-Off for The Publius Project

This morning, at our 10th Anniversary celebration, we are talking about the future of politics and the Net. The notes I’ve prepared with my colleagues in advance of the session are here, on the conference wiki; have at them!) Before we start the real-space conversation, a quick pause to introduce a new project, called Publius.  (This post is more or less a cross-posting of my Preface to the Publius project.)

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We live in extraordinary times. For one billion of the six billion people on the planet, our lives are mediated by digital technologies. The way we use these technologies has a huge impact on many aspects of life in wired cultures around the world: how we do business, how we connect with one another, how we relate to institutions, how we participate in civic life, and so forth. Even in places where the Net barely reaches – places like Burma, North Korea, and Cuba – its influence is beginning to be felt. While individuals and groups have more autonomy and power in the networked age, so too do states and international bodies have new and different capacities to govern.

We use digital technologies in ways that are both constructive and disruptive. These technologies make it possible, for instance, for any citizen to speak her mind in a networked public sphere and to be heard by other people just about anywhere else in the world. While this freedom represents a revolution for human rights and democracy, it also makes the harm that her speech can cause much greater. Her speech might be defamatory; or it might be obscene, perhaps unfit for children to hear; or it might be disrespectful to the sovereign of a state far away from where she published it. That sovereign might want to keep anyone in his state from hearing her.

National and international disputes arise from everyday interactions online, like publishing text and video. Within states, people argue about how much to regulate interactions that are mediated by the Internet, like discussions in chat rooms, commercial transactions, and gambling. States are beginning to attack one another in the newly militarized zone of cyberspace. States fight over control of intellectual property that flows across national boundaries. Leaders get very exercised about the way that web site naming conventions and other technical protocols work and about the power of the institutions that manage them.

While the interactions between states and international bodies are paramount, their power knows limits online; their influence must occur alongside that of the companies, markets, and users that comprise the Net. The code and services offered by companies and the coordination provided by markets, have an enormous impact on how online life is governed—they create rules about what we can and cannot do. Those of us who spend a lot of time on the Net – netizens – ourselves are establishing norms that further govern our collective experience online. Groups form and disband quickly. Those that stick around can amass great capacity to include, empower, and exclude. The ability to govern activities online is not the exclusive province of the state, and the line between public and private action is getting blurrier, not clearer, as more of life moves into the networked public sphere.

The Net is in the midst of a constitutional moment that’s unusual, if not unique in world history. Our argument is that we are together participating in a series of constitutional moments, taking place all the time, all around the world. And unlike previous constitutional moments, such as the late eighteenth century in the United States, many more people have a means of shaping the outcome.

The Publius Project — launched as part of Berkman@10 — intends to draw out and record for posterity the diverse voices of those participating in these rolling constitutional moments. We are publishing the arguments of those who are exploring these many processes of decision-making and governance online. Our goal is to illuminate our collective experience and to provide a forum for strong points of view to emerge. We want to shine light on the nuances at the margins of decision-making online. We mean to encourage the Internet community to provoke one another, to inform ourselves, and to listen to others with different experiences. In the process, it’s our goal to help empower individuals, groups, companies, states, and international bodies to work together for the common good, especially as these constitutional moments come in wave after wave, breaking all around us.

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As a starting point, one might begin with David Weinberger’s argument in favor of Tacit Governance. Then swing over to some responses, from Esther Dyson, David Johnson, and Kevin Werbach.

Myth-Busting: Kids and Information Technology

We’re planning our session on Digital Natives for the Berkman@10 conference later this week.  The idea is to hold a “myth-busting” session.  A first pass of myths are up on the conference wiki.  The idea is to discuss some of the common misconceptions about kids and technology that we explore in our forthcoming book, Born Digital.  Please suggest others, and looking forward to seeing many great friends later this week.  (Many thanks to Miriam Simun for her leadership on this and other matters.)

Changing Jobs, Search for New Executive Director

This summer, I’ll be moving to a new job at HLS, as vice dean for library and information resources.  I’m very excited about this new challenge.  I will still remain involved in the Berkman Center, as one of the faculty directors and in some research projects, but I’ll no longer be the executive director as of July 1, 2008.  We’ve opened up a search for a new executive director for the Berkman Center.  The job is posted here.  I hope you’ll encourage interested people to apply, and to talk to us about it at our upcoming 10th anniversary celebration next week.

Lessig on Change Congress at HLS

Tonight, Lawrence Lessig will return to the Berkman Center and Harvard Law School in a major address on his new initiative, Change Congress. Lessig was the first Berkman Professor, ten years ago, when the center was just getting off the ground. We are honored to welcome him back, as part of the Berkman@10 Series, celebrating where we’ve been and where we’re headed. Please join us today at 5:00 p.m. in Ames Courtroom at Harvard Law School, Friday, April 4, 2008. Admission is free and open to the public.

MacArthur Award, Kicking Off Berkman@10

This year, the Berkman Center is celebrating its tenth anniversary. We’re spending the year, in part, reflecting on what we’ve learned in our first decade, where things stand now in our field, and where we ought to focus for our second decade. We’ll have a series of special events throughout the year, as well as a gala event from May 14 – 16, 2008. We hope very much to see lots of friends, old and new, over the course of the year.

Berkman@10 image

We’ve also undertaken an effort this year to raise endowment-style funds for the Center to support our next ten years of operations. We’ve been very generously supported over the years, by the Berkman family and many others. Our mode has been not to have a permanent endowment, and we are not changing course in this regard, but rather we seek to raise funds on an entrepreneurial basis as we go along. We’re taking this tenth anniversary celebration as a time to achieve a bit more stability in our funding structure by raising funds to cover our core costs for our second decade.

We could not be happier that the MacArthur Foundation has decided to give us a $4 million award, our largest ever gift outside of the ongoing generosity of the Berkman family. This award from the MacArthur Foundation is the anchor to what we intend to make a successful effort to ensure that we have the resources to do our work even better in our second decade than we have in our first. I’m confident that the importance of the issues of Internet and society only grow more important and central to the lives of people around the world with each passing year.

The MacArthur Foundation has been exceptionally helpful to us on many levels as we go about our public-spirited work. The foundation’s president, Jonathan Fanton, the vice-president Elspeth Revere, and program officer John Bracken have contributed to our work in so many substantive and philanthropic ways. We’re extremely grateful.