Digital Natives and Internet Culture

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Today's remote participation will take place at

Particularly among digital natives (the community of individuals growing up with the web), the explosion of high bandwidth, persistent internet access has fostered the creation of a dynamic universe of active online communities. In turn, these communities have emerged with their own unique practices, cultural touchpoints, and body of content. Particularly in the last few years, they have grown larger -- and increasingly influence the media and cultural environment beyond the Internet. Our concepts about cultural production and community, particularly with regards to concepts of celebrity and subculture -- are actively being revised.

What is this cultural universe? How does it work? What implications does this culture have for the mainstream universe? Are there social ones? How about economic ones?

This class takes up these questions and discusses some evolving theories and approaches to understanding it.

Required Readings / Video


Practice (coupla short articles and videos)

Class Introduction

As a teacher who has been working with digital natives since they were 12 years old, I do not feel that "digital natives" know more about computers than those of us born before 1980. A better name for this cohort might be "networked natives." It isn't the computer stuff that comes naturally, it's the network and our own ability to contribute to it. Kids today sit as blankly as any elder technophobe in front of a new piece of software. Instead, it is the concept that they can connect to anyone they want, whenever they want and produce whatever they want to share and make those connections that they take for granted. Clay Shirky, in his talk at the Berkman Center, said "The moment the technology becomes boring the social effects get interesting."

The remaining readings and video for this week illustrate the power of the prosumer (producer/consumer) and his/her ability to affect the world. The Chocolate Rain and All Your Base Are Belong to Us memes demonstrate the unpredictability of these effects. As Christian Lander says in his interview about the people he met at ROFLcon "Everyone at that conference who made it, none of them thought anything was going to happen from what they were doing. They were all like, 'I did it because it was fun for me.'" It was fun and easy to do. Anyone can make a video. Everyone has the potential to become Internet famous. Digital natives take that for granted. We are all just one blog post, one video, one song away from fame and fortune. If any "asshole with a blog," according to Lander, can make it big, then so can I. Maybe we are all just digital assholes...

The power of the network, however, is not limited to the silly and strange. The network also demonstrates the power to make political and social change. Shirky describes several examples of "collective action" where group forming on the Internet led to new laws about how long airlines can keep passengers on the runway, and to regime change in dictatorships. More recently, we have also seen these forces at work in the Iran Election. The Scientology vs. Anonymous post shows the power of a group of otherwise powerless individuals to attack a large wealthy organization. Shirky points out that these tools are used differently when deployed in high vs low freedom environments. In the US we have Chocolate Rain, in Belarus they have Chocolate Ice cream.

The network can also create virtual wealth, as demonstrated in the article "Real Money in a Virtual World." Players in Online world are buying and selling property and powers to take them to the next level. Hunter, an online player, believes "virtual economies will grow to the point where they will become a vital sector of the U.S. economy." It seems social tools are also used differently in capitalist vs communist societies.

Finally, Benkler points out "...the emergence of widely accessible, self-conscious conversation about the meaning of contemporary culture by those who inhabit it." (p 295) Not only are we organizing collectively, but we are also analyzing and commenting on our collective experiences. When we search for Barbie, we don't only discover the Mattel doll, but also commentary on the doll's affect on society. The "Know Your Meme" videos examine the meme itself, its history and try to discern what it is that made these memes go viral. As we go from being consumers of media, to producers of media (prosumers), we also become meta-sumers (I just made this word up) of our Online experiences.

Here are a few more resources on Digital Natives:

"Living and Learning with Social Media" a talk by Danah Boyd at Penn State on April 18, 2009

Pew Report on Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next

Take this Quiz: How Millenial Are You?

--Lizbdavis 12:36, 6 April 2010 (UTC)

As someone who is both a Millennial and a manager of other people from my generation, I have had the unique experience of not only deciphering how my own Digital Native habits and practices play into today’s workforce, but I also have the responsibility to set the standard by which my supervisees will operate. Having walked this line, and observed my co-workers in action, one thing is clear: The current crop of young people will be defined historically by the advent of the Internet.

Due to their ubiquitous connectedness to friends and family through technology, they live in a world of instant gratification. A world where unlike their grandparents—who took pride in working for the same company for decades until retiring honorably—they have no reservations about leaving a job they don’t like, in an effort to find a position that meshes with their creative side and embraces them as an individual. They can multitask like no generation before them, and absorb information through new media at a pace that leaves their parents (and most of the rest of society) in the dust. Fast, creative, and unrestricted by traditional norms—indeed, they are the Internet personified.

Already, there are entire Human Resources training programs and national conferences dedicated exclusively to learning about the work habits and traits of this generation of digital natives. Companies like Google are actively recruiting Millennials to their staff, offering perks that no Baby Boomer would have ever expected, including in-office swimming pools, professional massages, three free gourmet meals a day, and wifi-enabled shuttle buses to and from work.

Like certain aspects of the Internet, they are subject to ridicule from people of an older generation, who consider them to be confusing, frustrating, or worse, a waste of time. Increasingly though, public opinion is shifting. As the CNET reading indicated, whether through companies making actual dollar-and-cent profits off of selling virtual goods on World of Warcraft and Second Life, or by students using MySpace to organize statewide school walkouts in protest of federal immigration legislation, what was once seen as a giant time-suck has morphed into a source of admirable revenue, and a breeding ground for new ideas and social movements.

It has also become clear that the laws the Internet does not inherently respect, young people raised on the Internet do not respect either. Even as far back as 2003, surveys conducted by CBS News showed that almost 70% of 18 – 29 year olds thought file-sharing was acceptable, at least in some circumstances, which runs in stark contrast to copyright laws and the music industry stance on the practice. Indeed, the law and corporate standards are both set by people outside of this demographic (at least at present), so it’s not surprising that it would lag behind public opinion on these matters.

We can’t help but wonder though, whether these idealistic young people will adapt and become more traditional with time, or whether their opinions—unreasonable as they may seem today—are the future. When this generation is running the show, will file-sharing still be seen as theft, or is it the new mix-tape? Does technology’s allowance of armchair activism—such as appropriating “Hussein” as one’s middle name on Facebook, or joining an “I’m With CoCo” group to support your favorite late-night host—make traditional modes of expression, like protests and public rallies, less necessary? If the borderless universe of the Internet is helping to shape the society we live in, which realm is the “real world”?

Additional sources:

"Text Message, MySpace Roots of Student Protests", NPR

"Life in the Googleplex", TIME Magazine

"Poll: Young Say File Sharing OK", CBS News

--RyanHuling 13:35, 6 April 2010 (UTC)

Digital Natives, Social Behavior, and the Internet Paradox

Because I was born after 1980, according to Palfrey and Gasser, I am technically a digital native. Yet I believe that my cohort--which I will generally characterize as those born between 1980-1990--enjoys a unique position with regard to the Internet. Although we have grown up alongside the diffusion of certain technologies, we can remember the time before this diffusion. I note this distinction in response to the following excerpt of Born Digital: "Major aspects of their lives—social interactions, friendships, civic activities—are mediated by digital technologies. And they’ve never known any other way of life. [emphasis added]" What will the long-term social implications be for those who know no other way of life?

Although our class has focused primarily on regulatory, legal, and economic issues related to the Internet, I am curious what other students think about how the Internet might influence social norms and culture for digital natives. How will digital natives’ levels of social capital compare to those of previous generations? Is Internet use leading to greater social isolation or social integration?

I'd like to bring in some outside readings that stray a bit from the foci of memes and cultural production on the Internet. I'm curious how online culture and behavior is affecting our offline culture and behavior, or if these two distinct realms even exist anymore.

One particular advertisement for a portable TV player, in which a young child tells his father he is going to the bathroom and then proceeds to settle down and watch TV. Is the instant gratification, as Ryan described above, characteristic of our Internet-centric culture producing antisocial tendencies?

The question of whether social technologies promote antisocial behavior is addressed in the article 1998 article, “Internet paradox. A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being?” The authors initially found that, in their sample, greater use of the Internet was associated with “declines in participants’ communication with family members in the household, declines in the size of their social circle, and increases in their depression and loneliness” (1998).

Four years later, the authors addressed their original findings and discussed follow-up results from their longitudinal studies in their article “Internet Paradox Revisited.” Besides suggesting that the initially reported negative implications lessened over time, the authors articulated a critical finding: “Using the Internet generally predicted better outcomes for extraverts or those with more social support but worse outcomes for introverts or those with less support” (2002). In contrast to the idea that Internet use may have negative implications for users’ social capital, Bargh and McKenna have argued that “despite past media headlines to the contrary, the Internet does not make its users depressed or lonely, and it does not seem to be a threat to community life-quite the opposite, in fact” (2004: 586).

I'm eager to learn about others' opinions about how social technologies are influencing traditional social norms and creating new ones.


Bargh, John and Katelyn McKenna. 2004. “The Internet and Social Life.” Annual Review of Psychology 55: 573-590.

Kraut, Robert, Michael Patterson, Vicki Lundmark, Sara Kiesler, Tridas Mukopadhyay and William Scherlis. 1998. “Internet Paradox. A Social Technology That Reduces Social Involvement and Psychological Well-Being?” American Psychologist 53(9): 1017-1031.

Kraut, Robert, Sara Kiesler, Bonka Boneva, Jonathon Cummings, Vicki Helgeson and Anne Crawford. 2002. “Internet Paradox Revisted.” Journal of Social Issues 58(1): 49-74.

Schulman, Michael. "Social Studies." The New Yorker September 17, 2007

(Kaurigem 16:32, 6 April 2010 (UTC))

Class Discussion

'Drop any questions or comments or things you'd like to focus on here!'

A few muppets briefly muse about Internet culture