NONOBJECT (or, I bought my first book in the form of an iPad app)

I bought and downloaded my first book-as-iPad-app yesterday: NONOBJECT, by Branko Lukic and Barry M. Katz (MIT Press, 2010).  It cost $19.99 and one finds it in the Apps Store, not in the book store.  It took quite a while to download over my home connection.  It was worth it, both in terms of cost and time waiting for the code to run on the iPad.

I chose to read NONOBJECT for its form, not so much its substance.  I don’t know much about industrial design or the theory related to it, though I learned a bit along the way.  (The premise of NONOBJECT is a design principle that focuses not so much on the product or the designer but on the space between them that is altered through design.)  I was interested in the experience of reading that the authors would offer up.  It’s fun and thought-provoking.  The experience is partially but not entirely linear.  One reads a bit of text (I doubt there’s more than 5,000 words in total in the book), which is all cleverly written, and then experiences a series of ideas of “nonobjective” design.  The photos are beautiful, as one might expect from a high-end book on design, and are frequently interactive.  There are twirling objects, moving pictures, interactive bits.  I give a lot of credit to Lukic, Katz, MIT Press, and the programmers who developed the book into an iPad app.  It’s a lovely job; I felt my time was well-spent in experiencing it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about books-as-iPad-apps.  I’m writing one myself, on intellectual property strategy, also to be published with MIT Press.  The idea is to think of the book as an experience that takes advantage of the interactivity and design possibilities of the iPad interface (which I happen to enjoy).  I’ve written it as a book that one can read in its ordinary, printed, form, though it will be a short book — probably 30,000 words.  It will also have expanded case studies if one wants to go deeper on certain topics.  And I’ve been videotaping interviews with colleagues about intellectual property strategy, with help from my friend June Casey in the HLS Library and a team of students.  The idea is to put together an iPad app version of this book that can be downloaded, much like NONOBJECT.  I’m glad that Lukic and Katz’s book has come out in this version.  I’ve learned a lot from experiencing it while working on my own.

Noah Feldman, Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices

I have had the great pleasure this evening of introducing Prof. Noah Feldman on the occasion of his talk on his new book, Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices (Twelve, 2010).  Noah’s interlocutor: our great friend Christopher Lydon, former Berkman Center fellow and journalist who has led the way in print (“on the bus” with the NYT in 1972); as Boston’s leading serious TV presence (on WGBH); the voice of The Connection (on NPR and WBUR, my all-time favorite radio program); and now a pioneer of the podcasting medium (with 500,000 downloads a month of Radio Open Source, based at the Watson Center at Brown).

Noah is the Bemis Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.  He is already one of the undisputed shining stars of our generation of scholars — in law or any field.  His work is known for an almost impossible breadth and depth.  Noah’s scholarship has been influential across many domains, from international affairs, domestic politics in America, and Constitutional Law.  He’s also a popular and effective teacher, both for our students here at Harvard Law School and of the public at large, through his writing in the New York Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.  As I read the opening passages of Scorpions, I was struck by the sense that, seventy-five years from now, our great-grand-children may well read a story as compelling as this one with Noah as a subject rather than its author.

Scorpions is an incredibly fun read — hard to put down.  (Not surprisingly, it seems already to be jumping off the shelves, if its current Amazon rank is any indication.)  He starts with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s rise to power and his assembly of an extraordinary group of four, soon-to-be-famous Supreme Court justices: Felix Frankfurter, Hugo Black, Robert Jackson, and William O. Douglas.  These characters turn out, each, to be as fascinating as individuals as they were influential as jurists.  The Supreme Court as an institution, and the way that we think about the Constitution, were changed at their hands.  The narrative that he recounts bears directly on the processes of nominating and confirming Supreme Court nominees and on the ways that the Court does (and should) work.  In his book talk, Noah emphasized a key theme that is implied throughout the book: how personality shapes the way that the law is made.  There is great insight in this book as to fights over the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment; Brown v. Board of Education; the law in wartime; the rule of law itself; and much more.

Setting aside the obvious interest that this book will hold for lawyers, what is most compelling about the book is the way that Noah intertwines so many weighty themes together into a single story about these four men and their President.  Noah weaves together a whole host of major topics, beyond the law itself, of the twentieth century: war, international relations, domestic politics, governance, cultural struggles, religion, social class, crime, the terrorism of the Italian anarchists, ambition and rivalry.

As Noah put it during the book talk — prompted by Christopher Lydon’s incisive questions — Roosevelt’s Presidency was “a completely different world than the one we live in today.”  He writes in a way that makes these stories accessible from a presentist perspective.  (As a law professor, “I’m not the sort of historian who says he can’t address presentist concerns,” Noah says.)  Another great quote from Noah, reflecting on the hope that we’d confirm some “flawed people” to future Supreme Courts: “I’d hope to be a poster-child for flawed people.”  I learned a great deal from the time well-spent in reading Noah’s important new book.

(The video of this informative conversation between Noah and Chris, which was recorded, should eventually be published online by HLS on our YouTube channel, I’d imagine.  And for a different, not-so-positive, take on the book, Noah pointed verbally to the WSJ’s recent review.)

Susan Rabiner, Thinking Like Your Editor

As I’ve been gearing up to write a new book, I’ve been thinking about how to do it better this time — continuous improvement and all that.  Some fairly obvious observations are on my mind: stronger argument, a more compelling narrative, less repetitive, probably shorter, and one big-picture idea,* below the rest of the post.

With these thoughts of self-improvement in mind, I’ve turned to the pros to see what they have to say, and found a wonder of a book.  It’s by former Basic Books editorial director-turned-agent, Susan Rabiner (you can follow her on Twitter, as I do; perhaps that will encourage her to Tweet more if we do!).  I heard Ms. Rabiner speak to a group of faculty on my campus; her talk was excellent, as is her book: Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Non-Fiction — and Get it Published.  Rabiner’s book even got the two thumbs up from Lara Heimert, the editor of Urs’ and my book, Born Digital, and our next project.  (We know from first-hand experience just how demanding, and amazing, Lara is!  Lara does not recommend books lightly; she said that she routinely gives it to her authors.  Hmm…  I wonder why we had to come across it on our own?  Maybe…)

There are lots of reasons why I hugely liked this book, most of which come down to modeling.  Rabiner has written a book that must itself accomplish all the things she’s telling the writer to do, which is no mean feat.  She tells us, for instance, to make argument and narrative work together — and, lo and behold, she does just that in her own text.  It’s a few hundred pages, yet it reads (almost) like a novel; I read it in one sitting.  The text is clean and flows from idea to idea in a way that pulled me along.  All the while, the topic is about thinking up a book project, writing a proposal, what to expect from an agent/editor/marketing department of your publisher, the distinction between a trade book and a university press project, and so forth.  I can see why it is recommended reading for anyone writing serious non-fiction.

Rabiner notes that, when someone is standing in a bookstore with your book in her hands, you have to convince her to devote 5 to 10 hours with you.  This great framing helped me think about my next project.  But it also became clear to me: Rabiner succeeded at her own assignment: 5 hours with her book was well-spent.

(*And at the same time, I have in mind a big-picture thought, encapsulated well by Cody Brown in TechCrunch, about thinking in terms of “apps” as well as “books”, in the traditional sense.  I think this next one will look more like “book” than “app,” but the form factor and interactivity components to any sustained argument strike me as important.  With Born Digital, Urs Gasser and I created four “books”: 1) the traditional bound one/Kindle version, which I count together as one, since I see little difference between the two from a user experience, much as Cody Brown notes in her TechCrunch post; 2) a blog; 3) a wiki; and 4) one comprised of student-generated videos, still a work in progress.  This is a topic for another day, but much on my mind.)

Allison Hoover Barlett, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

For Christmas, my good friend and mentor John DeVillars gave me a copy of “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much” by Allison Hoover Bartlett.  (There were several messages embedded in the giving of this gift, I’m clear on that much.)  I’ve been eager to read it, but it was fairly far down on the stack of books on my bedside table until last night.  It was worth the wait: a lot of fun and readable in a few nights, if you’re willing to stay up late.  It’s apparently non-fiction, but it reads almost like a mystery novel — about Bibliomania.

Bartlett tells the story of John Charles Gilkey, who steals a great many rare books, and the rare book dealer (Ken Sanders) who helps to track him down and warn his fellow dealers of Gilkey’s misdeeds.  Bartlett clearly spent an enormous amount of time reading about book collectors, dealers, and thieves and talked to a good many of them, too.  She tells the story of Gilkey, Sanders et al. in a manner that’s at once serious and reflective, and with a welcome sense of humor throughout.  Bartlett gets deeply into the topic herself through the research and writing process, which comes through clearly in the text in an appealing, human way.  She refers in the notes on p. 263 to a state of “research rapture,” which resonated for me.  For anyone who loves books and bookstores (or libraries, for that matter, which make a cameo appearance near the end, especially), it’s an interesting, fun (and quick) read.

For those for whom the book is not enough on this topic: I also enjoyed the Library Thing interview with the author.

Research Confidential and Surveying Bloggers

In our research methods seminar this evening at the Berkman Center, we got into a spirited conversation about the challenges of surveying bloggers.  In this seminar, we’ve been working primarily from a text called Research Confidential, edited by Eszter Hargittai (who happens to be my co-teacher in this experimental class, taught concurrently, and by video-conference, between Northwestern and Harvard). The book is a great jumping-off point for conversations about problems in research methods.

The two chapters we’ve read for this week were both excellent: Gina Walejko’s “Online Survey: Instant Publication, Instant Mistake, All of the Above” and Dmitri Williams and Li Xiong’s “Herding Cats Online: Real Studies of Virtual Communities.”  Both chapters are compelling (as are the others that we’ve read for this course).  They tell useful stories about specific research projects that the authors conducted related to populations active online.  In support of our discussion about surveys in class, these two chapters tee up many of the issues that we ought to have raised in this conversation.  Gina also came to class to discuss her chapter with us, which was amazing.  (Come to think of it, I would also have liked to have met the two authors of the second chapter; they wrote some truly funny lines into the otherwise very serious text.)

In a previous class, we started with Eszter’s Introductory chapter, “Doing Empirical Social Science Research,” as well as Christian Sandvig’s “How Technical is Technology Research? Acquiring and Deploying Technical Knowledge in Social Research Projects.”  These two chapters were a terrific way to start the course; I’d recommend the pairing of the two as a possible starting point for getting into the book, even though they’re not presented in that order (with no disrespect meant for those who chose the chapter order in the book itself!).

While many of Research Confidential’s chapters bear on the special problems prompted by use of the Internet and the special opportunities that Internet-related methods present, the book strikes me as very useful read for anyone conducting research in today’s world.  I strongly recommend it.  The mode of the book renders the text very accessible and readable: unlike most methods textbooks, this book is a series of narratives by young researchers about their experiences in approaching research problems, some of them related to the Internet and others not so technical in nature.  As a researcher, I learned a great deal; as a reader, I thoroughly enjoyed the book’s stories.

Dawn Nunziato's Virtual Freedom: Net Neutrality and Free Speech in the Internet Age

Dawn Nunziato, a law prof at George Washington University Law School, has written a helpful and interesting new book, entitled Virtual Freedom: Net Neutrality and Free Speech in the Internet Age.

Her focus in “Virtual Freedom” is — as the subtitle suggests — free speech on the net, framed primarily for the current net neutrality debate.  She compares two distinct conceptions of the First Amendment, one affirmative and the other negative.  She argues forcefully for the affirmative approach to the First Amendment.  In making out her argument, she recalls John Stuart Mill and Oliver Wendell Holmes (on the marketplace of ideas conception), through to Cass Sunstein (whose views get a great deal of airtime in the book) and Owen Fiss, among others.  Along the way, she takes up, fairly extensively, the core relevant doctrines: the state action doctrine, the public forum doctrine, the fairness doctrine, must carry, and common carriage.  She also spends a good deal of time in the caselaw, carefully reviewing also the matters one might expect to see, many of which predate today’s Internet: Marsh v. Alabama, Pruneyard, and other state action doctrine/shopping mall-type cases; the AP decision of 1945; Red Lion; Turner; Brand X; Carlin; AT&T v. the City of Portland; and so forth.  She takes up several Internet-specific matters as well (such as Intel v. Hamidi, CDT v. Pappert, and the ICANN debates) and sets them in context.

Her bottom line is that Congress should pass a law (or require the FCC) to prohibit broadband providers from blocking legal content or applications and from engaging in various forms of discrimination and prioritization of packets.  She argues, too, in favor of greater transparency by broadband providers when they do engage in selective passage of packets.  She says maybe we should regulate powerful search engines, such as Google, too.

Nunziato’s book made me think of two other books I’ve re-read in the past few weeks.  The first is Newton Minow and Craig LaMay’s Abandoned in the Vast Wasteland: Children, Television, and the First Amendment (1996), which takes up similar issues related to various conceptions of the First Amendment, though from the angle of protecting and supporting children.  The other is Jonathan Zittrain’s free-for-the downloading Future of the Internet — and How to Stop it (2008), especially in chapters 7 through 9, in which JZ takes up many of the same issues (changes in the public/private online and how we should think about “regulation” of online behaviors).

I enjoyed this book: it’s well-written and, just as important, I think Nunziato is, by and large, right as to her normative view.  Virtual Freedom: Net Neutrality and Free Speech in the Internet Age belongs on the bookshelf (virtual or otherwise!) of anyone working on broadband regulation, net neutrality, online censorship, and the like.

Digital Youth Project Report, Book Released

This week was a big one for the study of young people and the Internet: Mimi Ito and her team released the results of their long-anticipated, 3-year study on Digital Youth.  The study was funded by the MacArthur Foundation as a centerpiece of its Digital Media and Learning initiative.  It is required reading for anyone interested in this field, and no surprise that covered ranged from the New York Times to all these blogs that cover issues related to digital youth.  It’s called “Living and Learning with New Media.”  You can enjoy it in many different formats, including a 58-page white paper

– One key theme comes out of the authors’ orientation toward the study.  “We are wary of claims that a digital generation is overthrowing culture and knowledge as we know it and that its members are engaging in new media in ways radically different from those of older generations. At the same time, we also believe that this generation is at a unique historical moment tied to longer-term and systemic changes in sociability and culture. While the pace of technological change may seem dizzying, the underlying practices of sociability, learning, play, and self-expression are undergoing a slower evolution, growing out of resilient social and cultural structures that youth inhabit in diverse ways in their everyday lives. We sought to place both the commonalities and diversity of youth new media practice in the context of this broader social and cultural ecology.”  This orientation strikes me as just the right one: to be wary of claims that suggest that everything is different, but to be open to the “unique historical moment” in which we — and young people in our culture — find ourselves.  (p. 4, White Paper)

– The researchers provide terrific context for when and how youth are in fact learning.  There’s a gap between the perceptions of many adults about how young people are “wasting time” and what is in fact going on with much of the time spent connected to one another through digital media.  This report — more than any other I’ve seen — helps to provide real clarity into the meaningful socializing and other kinds of learning that are going on.

– As I’ve been going around talking about the book that Urs Gasser and I wrote on a similar subject, Born Digital, I’ve been asked many times about what is going on with the changing nature of the word “friend” and “friendship”.  This report has the answer, in ways that I’ve not been able to articulate myself.  (p. 18 ff.)   For the longer — and wholly worthwhile — version, see the relevant book chapter, of which danah boyd was the lead author. 

– The report makes clear something that we found in our own, much smaller-scale research: that there’s a trajectory of learning that is going on as young people first come online and then, over time, become more sophisticated with the medium and how they relate to one another, to information, and to institutions through it.  The report does an elegant job of showing why this is important — and reminding us that not everyone is proceeding along that same trajectory. (p. 27 ff., through the section on “Geeking Out”, at least)

– The Conclusions and Implications section is easy to read and points are made forcefully.  (pp. 35 – 39)  Teachers and parents, in particular, will find some of these conclusions to be constructive guides.  After spending lunchtime yesterday with 22 students from the Boston Latin Academy, I was reminded of the importance of the learning that happens peer-to-peer, for instance, which is one of the key conclusions of this paper.  There are concrete things that every educator, and every parent or mentor, of young people in any culture can and should glean from this important work.

The White Paper is just one of the outputs of the research.  There’s a 2-page executive summary, the full research report (in fact, a book; the optimal way to get the full picture of the work), and a press release plus videos on the MacArthur Foundation’s web site.

Bravo to the many collaborators for this very important work.  As with much of the rest of the DML research, it’s a real gift to those of us trying to work out this puzzle.

A Review-in-the-Making of Born Digital

Andy Oram, editor at O’Reilly, has posted something quite extraordinary on the wiki for our book and associated research project.  It appears that he has read Born Digital and then posted his review on the wiki for comment before he posts it to the O’Reilly Media web site.  I hope others will take up his challenge to comment on it; just the sort of conversation we’re delighted to have, in small measure, provoked.  (For the record, this review-in-the-making is an effective critique of the book, which points at several of the inevitable soft-spots in our arguments.)  Thanks much, Andy, both for doing the honor of reading and reacting in depth to the book, but also for doing it in this fashion.

Digital Media, Youth, and Credibility

The final book in the MIT Press/MacArthur series on Digital Media and Learning (well, final only in terms of my getting around to writing up a review of it on this blog!) is “Digital Media, Youth, and Credibility,” edited by Miriam J. Metzger and Andrew J. Flanagin. It’s not last because it is the least important or least good, but rather it’s the taken the longest time to think about it and its message.

The topic of credibility (and the related themes of information quality and access) is incredibly important — and also very, very hard to get a grip on. It turns out that my co-author on Born Digital, Urs Gasser, is among the world’s experts on this topic in law, so I was in luck. He did most of the research and drafting on our chapters on Quality and Overload. This work also bumps up against what we at the Berkman Center have been struggling with for some time in the context of old and new media and credibility, with our conference on Blogging, Journalism and Credibility and, more recently, the Media Re:Public project.

In their introduction, the editors start out with a summary of each chapter — abstracts, almost — which together serve as a helpful device for those readers who don’t hav the time or inclination to make it through the entire volume. Not suprisingly, the summaries are worthy and faithful to the articles themselves.

Together, the editors have also written a first chapter on opportunities and challenges in the context of online credibility. Their section on “Defining Credibility” and related context (pp. 7 – 9) is useful and could serve as a reference point for other articles on the topic. Their grounding, more generally, of credibility in the youth digital learning environment got me thinking hard about the power of the search algorithms (Google’s PageRank, of course, chief among them) and the impact that these engineering decisions have on what young people are learning and will be learning. A few people in the private sector may never have had such power over a key aspect of learning in history.

The second essay by Metzger and Flanagin also includes “a call to arms to researchers, educators, policy makers, and others concerned with these issues to understand how youth think about credibility in the digital media environment and to devise a plan to assist youth in finding and evaluating the information they need.” (p. 17) Sounds right, but also sounds like a huge challenge.

The summary finding from the editors that grabbed me the most: “Perhaps the most consistent theme across all these stakeholders is that digital technologies complicate traditional notions of hierarchies and authority structures.” (p. 18) Quite right: hierarchies and authority structures don’t go away, they are just shifted around, with new players in the mix. Hierarchy and authority aren’t gone, and won’t go, they’re just different, in ways we are only beginning to understand. (Hence, in my view, the growing importance of librarians and many forms of teachers.)

The book also includes a second “call to arms,” this time in favor of “teaching credibility assessment.” (p. 155) Frances Jacobson Harris notes, quite rightly, that “meaningful access to digital information resources and systems in schools is about much more than a physical connection to the Internet. Digital natives are not necessarily skilled or critical consumers of digital information. Many are still novices when it comes to searching, selecting, and assessing the meaning and value of the information they find.” (p. 155) This is one of the key themes that we explore in Born Digital, and which has previously been built out effectively by Henry Jenkins, Eszter Hargittai, and others. Overall, this essay is totally wonderful: clear, compelling, and with a great conclusion. (pp. 172-3)

David Lankes, in “Trusting the Internet,” offers a nice piece on what he calls “information self-sufficiency” and its implications. It’s well-grounded in the technology and the tools under development on the net. (See especially pp. 115 – 7) I liked this line: “Just like libraries used to produce pathfinders and annotated bibliographies, users will soon be able to find a piece of information, such as a Web site, and follow that information to all of the other public information used in a given conversation.” (p. 114)

One of the sub-themes in the DML series has been the overlay of health and information in the lives of young people. That theme is picked up here in Gunther Eysenbach’s piece on credibility and information related to health online. He introduces and evaluates an interesting model, called DIDA, on the flow of information online. (pp. 132 – 3) The punchline, as one might imagine, is that many people go first to the Internet and second to their doctor for health information today; and there’s still a rich mix of people who consider online information credible and those who are more likely to be skeptical of it (certainly squaring with our own research on young people and digital media, to be sure). (pp. 125 – 6)

Fred Weingarten of the ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy concludes the volume with a constructive essay on the (limited) role of government in respect to the credibility of information online, which he summarizes into three easy-to-understand categories. (pp. 181 – 2)

So, we are left with two clear calls to arms, some helpful frameworks, and a huge challenge ahead of us. The answer, as unfulfilling as it sounds, has to be to work on critical thinking skills through the schools, libraries, and traditional modes of parenting and peer-learning. Though technology can help, it won’t solve the problems and it may bring about some new problems of its own; I don’t think there will be any short-cuts. But the pay-off of serious engagement on this topic could be enormous in terms of acess to information and new ways of teaching, learning, and engaging in civic life.

Thanks, so much, to the team that Connie Yowell and the MacArthur Foundation and MIT Press put together to develop this series of six books. What a rich resource the collection is, as bound volumes; free downloads; and directions for future research and leadership.

Katie Salen, ed., "The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning"

The first book that I read in the series of MacArthur/MIT Press’s Digital Media and Learning series was “The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning,” edited by game designer and educator Katie Salen (open access version here). As with the other books in the series, it’s a very important contribution to the scholarly literature of a nascent field. (I’ve come back to Salen’s work just as Urs Gasser and I are turning in the final, final version of our forthcoming book, Born Digital.) “The Ecology of Games” is an excellent primer on where innovation is happening at the intersection between games and learning and where future avenues for research offer promise.

The first essay, Salen’s “Toward an Ecology of Gaming,” sets the frame for the collection. She recounts, helpfully, those things that “we” know already: “… that play is iterative as is good learning, and that gaming is a practice rooted in reflection in action, which is also a quality of good learning. We know games are more than contexts for the production of fun and deliver just-in-time learning, the development of specialist language, and experimentation with identity and point of view. We know games are procedurally based systems embedded within robust communities of practice. We know that video games and gaming have done much to shape our understanding and misunderstanding of the post-Nintendo generation, and hold a key place in the minds of those looking to empower educators and learners. Beyond their value as entertainment media, games and game modification are currently key entry points for many young people into productive literacies, social communities, and digitally rich identities.” (pp. 14 – 15) She ends her chapter with five unanswered questions, each worth reflecting and working on. (p. 15)

James Paul Gee‘s “Learning and Games” gives an overview of what “good game design” can “teach us about good learning” and vice-versa (p. 21). He offers these insights through what he calls the “situated learning matrix.” (pp. 24 – 31) The most illuminating part of his essay for me was the discussion of the ways in which young people form cross-functional teams within gaming environments — and his view of the excellent training opportunities these contexts could hold in terms of training them for workplace experiences. (p. 33)

In “In-Game, In-Room, In-World: Reconnecting Video Game Play to the Rest of Kids’ Lives,” three authors (Reed Stevens, Tom Satwicz, and Laurie McCarthy) take up a great topic: “whether playing these games affects kids’ lives when the machine is off.” (p. 41) The key insight for me was the notion of identity: “… young people are indeed forming identities in relation to video games. The idea that they can do things in the game that they cannot do in the real world is only part of the story; the other half is that they hold actions that they control in-game in regular comparative contact with the consequences, and morality, of those actions in the real world. Actions in games, then, are a resource for building identities in the real world, occurring through a reflective conversation that takes place in-room.” (p. 62)

“E is or Everyone: The Case for Inclusive Game Design,” by Amit Pitaru, followed a different structure than most other essays in the series. It’s told as a story about the researcher’s time with students at the Henry Viscardi School in Albertson, NY, a “remarkable school” that “educates approximately 200 pre-K to twenty-one-year-old students with a variety of physical disabilities and medical needs.” (p. 68)

Through this narrative, Pitaru offers insights on many levels. The essence of the argument is that a lack of play among children poses dangers, many of which can be avoided through digital games when set in the proper context. Pitaru claims further that digital games “provide a viable complementary activity to existing mediated forms of play” for children with disabilities.” (p. 85) I wondered, at the end, how many educators would agree with Pitaru, and where other experimentation is happening.

Mimi Ito, as usual, offers an extraordinarily helpful essay. If you read any single essay from the DML series, read this one: “Education vs. Entertainment: A Cultural History of Children’s Software.” The topic is genres of participation. She tells a story about “commercial children’s software, designed to be both fun and enriching, lies at the boundary zone between the resilient structures of education and entertainment that structure contemporary childhoods in the United States.” (p. 89) Ito gives an instructive history of the development of games for kids along with a genuinely useful analytical frame and a clear conclusion. She writes, “If I were to place my bet on a genre of gaming that has the potential to transform the systemic conditions of childhood learning, I would pick the construction genre.” (p. 115) Here’s to tinkering (and to Mimi’s great work).

In “The Rhetoric of Video Games,” Ian Bogost makes an intriguing argument in favor of “procedural rhetoric” via games. In his view, this approach could enable the questioning of the values behind certain professional practices instead of their blind assumption. (p. 130) I’m not sure I completely got his argument, but it was useful and provocative to puzzle it through.

Anna Everett, the editor of another volume in the series, and S. Craig Watkins offer a counterpoint to much of the rest of the book, exploring ways in which games and other immersive environments are not always socially productive. (p. 143) It’s a helpful reminder and a useful link to the DML series book on race.

The most interesting data that is presented in the book comes from the private sector: Cory Ondrejka, then of Linden Labs/Second Life and the Annenberg School (now headed to an exciting new job…), points out some usage statistics about SL in “Education Unleashed: Participatory Culture, Education, and Innovation in Second Life.” The most striking — and hopeful — figure was his note that 67% (sixty-seven percent) of respondents to a survey of Teen Second Life users “had written at least one program using the scripting language.” (p. 239) Of course it is a tiny sample (384) of self-selected young people, but the tinkering spirit that Mimi Ito highlights in her essay is alive and well in the people that Ondrejka heard from.

Barry Joseph, director of Global Kids, Inc., wrote the concluding essay on “treating games as a form of youth media within a youth development framework.” His notion of game design as an element of making meaning through the creation of structures is a great addition to the thinking on semiotic democracy that I think is so crucial in this literature. His theory is well-grounded in experiences he’s had with Global Kids, working with teachers and students and corporate supporters, which gives the piece an important series of links to reality that is often missing from our scholarly literature — without giving up the theoretical side.

Salen, Ito, Ondrejka, and Joseph’s essays, among others in the book, led me to a conclusion out of the book: in some contexts, great forms of learning may come for some students using well-designed games, primarily of the construction genre. There’s not yet sufficient evidence here, in my view, to turn over our entire educational system to games and virtual worlds, but there’s plenty to learn from what some young people are doing in these environments during school time and otherwise.