As Diana posted earlier this week, we had joined John Palfrey as part of the DC Talks series at Google’s Washington, D.C. office. I just wanted to echo that it was an fantastic experience, and I am truly privileged to have taken part. Since we were in DC no less, one of the salient questions that emerged was how Digital Natives will affect policy as we move into the next decade or two. In his post at in reaction to the DC Talk, Drew Bennet has a great analysis of the issues at hand.

Will we see a dramatic shift in priorities that will lead to the development of new paradigms and new solutions for internet policy conflicts? Will a digital native in the White House do for broadband what Eisenhower did for highways?

I asked the panelists if they felt today’s policy makers and presidential candidates were really addressing the issues that are important to digital natives and the researchers seemed to say that they couldn’t be sure yet. It seems the digital natives are only beginning to come of age when it comes to their political and policy preferences…

When I was initially asked these questions at the panel, I admit I didn’t know how best to respond. Working on Digital Natives in the dual roles of researcher-subject has trended me toward a lot of self-analysis, but it has only brought up more questions in the process. Part of my difficulty with this question was how to tease out the various interactions. The question isn’t simply how will Digital Natives affect policy, but how will the two interact with one another. Because Digital Natives are not the policymakers now, everything that happens between now and that point will shape our attitudes on these issues. Could we have predicted a site like Facebook could embody and arguably even have set the standard for privacy online? It is indeed, as Drew also notes, that our opinions are still being formed.

Drew also writes of the dividing line between Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants.

Thinking back on some of the issues discussed – privacy risks, political engagement, online safety – I fear that digital immigrants, though they may have achieved vital access, will be at risk and at a disadvantage as the larger population of digital natives ascend.

This is a good question to ask because Born Digital focuses on current policy, at a time when Digital Natives are the ones affected by policy but don’t have an input in it. So what happens when the tables are turned? Tech policy in general – whether it’s in the realm of privacy, copyright, etc. – seems to be trending toward greater openness. I wonder though, at least when it comes to privacy, whether there will be a boomerang where a generation that has grown up without privacy begins to demand more control of their privacy. Or does privacy simply become something we value more as we grow older? How much of these differences are simply generational differences between young and old? How much of it is actually a function of the Internet?

I’m going to end on one more question, a question that I expected to get but didn’t: “How much time do you spend online per day?” It seems like a natural entrée into a survey of Internet usage, and it’s a question I often field from my parent’s friends. Perhaps that’s a nod to the savvy of the audience because I think there is no answer that that question. I am constantly online. Unlike the age of dial-up, there really is no distinction between online and off. I live on a college campus blanketed by Wi-Fi and even if I don’t carry my own laptop around, I can easily hop onto a computer and plug in online. The cell phones in our pockets no longer a portal only to the people in our phonebooks, but to the entire Internet. Email can be constantly checked on the fly. This kind of total immersion – there’s something unique growing up with this kind of constant access.

– Sarah Zhang

Be Sociable, Share!