On Remix and Born Digital
book reviews in Science Magazine
The "Books et al." section in the current issue of Science features two Berkman Center-related pieces of interest to the wider community.
Yochai Benkler considers Lawrence Lessig's Remix, and Jennifer Preece reviews John Palfrey and Urs Gasser's Born Digital, respectively:
1. Sharing, Trading, Creating Culture
2. Growing Up Connected
(A subscription is required for access to both of these, alas.)
1. Benkler elegantly summarizes Lessig's two-part argument -- "the centrality of remix" and "that creativity on the Net will take the form of both noncommercial sharing and hybrids of commercial activity with voluntary, non-cash-based forms of online work" -- before dialing it into the concerns of scientists:
Two aspects of Remix are likely to be of primary interest to scientists. The first is that the concerns [Lessig] raises about excessive property rights getting in the way of creative uses of existing materials apply as well to data and the technical and legal constraints on sharing them, to research tools and patents constraining their application, to materials and material transfer agreements that can impede their employment across institutions and labs, and to open access publishing. Understanding how copyright law in particular can undermine creation, not only support it, offers a valuable background from which to understand these more science-centric problems. Second, Lessig weaves his tapestry from many stories about human cooperation, a subject of increasing interest to social and evolutionary scientists alike.
Benkler is particularly appreciative of Lessig's unpacking of successful commercial-volunteer hybrids for increasing understanding of the kinds of issues being explored by the Cooperation project and research group here at Berkman.
2. Preece begins by characterizing "digital natives" in a way that suggests the kinship of the arguments in Remix and Born Digital: "Digital natives like to experiment with media and to share stories, pictures, and videos online...Everything online can be interacted with, commented on, changed, or added to, including their identities." She praises the breadth and balance of Born Digital, emphasizing Palfrey and Gasser's key recommendation that:
parents and teachers educate themselves more about technologies and how digital natives use them. Parents who stand back and do not involve themselves in their offspring's online activities are, they suggest, missing an opportunity to protect, engage with, and help their children. Born Digital is timely and informative; although a little repetitive in the early chapters, it challenges the reader to think deeply about how our society is changing.
Ultimately, Preece would have liked a more extensive discussion of solutions that could help both to mitigate risks in digital culture and to support the remarkable opportunities that that culture provides. Preece sees an important role in these solutions for "technology designers and entrepreneurs" and "digital natives themselves."
Preece's call for more, a sequel to Born Digital, will be met soon in at least one respect which is intimately linked to the concerns of Lessig's Remix: Palfrey and Gasser, along with Rosalie Fay Barnes and Miriam Simun, have written a paper (forthcoming) that delves into their Born Digital research around understandings of copyright and intellectual property; the paper proposes a curriculum, Creative Rights, for helping youth understand, performatively, the balances in law between the concerns of creators, owners, consumers, and remixers (e.g., via fair use). Stay tuned.