Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Born Digital

Just finished "Born Digital" by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, which addresses the idea that people born after 1980, when computers emerged, dubbed "digital natives," haven't known anything but digital technology, so they therefore live differently than those born before 1980. The World Wide Web, by the way, didn't appear until 1991, even though it seems now like it's been part of our lives forever.

I read somewhere recently, too, that the gap between generations right now is the greatest since the Vietnam war era, with the country having a distinct split on the direction it should follow.

The "Born Digital" book covers many of the issues and ideas that have emerged from this fissure -- related to such topics as privacy, quality of information, pirating, learning and innovation -- in layman terms. Even though it was written by a couple of attorneys, and it's about a technical field, the writing style and language clearly were aimed at a mainstream audience. Sometimes, I found that tedious, in terms of repetition and unneeded context. But I suspect those who haven't read much in this field would need that framework to understand the points.

That said, here are a few excerpts from the book I found interesting:

* In 2006, Tower Records liquidated, and by 2008, iTunes was the largest music retailer in the U.S.

* If you are not a digital native, you still can be a "digital settler," helping to shape this new world, even though you weren't born into it.

* If the VCR didn't ruin the movie business, why will digital file sharing kill the music industry?

* "I think the reason why print magazines are still very popular is because you kind of have the feeling, okay, this is like one issue, and this is what happened this week. And on the Internet ... there's no beginning and no end. -- An 18-year-old Harvard student."

* In 2007 alone, 161 billion gigabytes of digital content was created, or 3 million times the amount of information in all of the books ever written. Experts predict in 2010, the world will produce nearly a trillion gigabytes of digital content.

* A person's short term memory can only hold seven items at once.

* When people are overloaded with information, they tend to respond with simpler and shorter messages. Hmmm, Twitter?

The chapters on digital dossiers and information overload were the most striking to me, making me rethink some of my views on sharing information online as well as the ways in which I handle the glut of knowledge. The authors use the metaphor of a tattoo as a way to think of something a young person might leave in cyberspace that will haunt them the rest of their lives.

Much of this confirms my mantra on web design: simple, straightfoward and clean. As I work on building into that vision, and transform it for mobile screens, (and the more I use mobile apps on my G1), I'm getting convinced that the less complexity, the better.

- Brett

1 comment:

Julie M. Davis said...

Brett --

I find it interesting that some of the same quotes you posted are ones that I highlighted while reading the book. I find the amount of digital content that we will produce by 2010 particularly interesting since I think there is a common misconception about the web and how it is transforming our society. Many believe that we are raising a new generation who will become less knowledgeable and literate. I think we may actually find the opposite effect taking place. I believe we are changing the way people read and interact with information. More than ever, individuals have a forum to speak their minds and learn about whatever their heart desires. Some of the knowledge collected or shared may not be put to the best use but most will. With every situation there is always a good and bad side of the coin.