The New York Times’ Brian Stelter and Brad Stone have a very thoughtful piece in the paper today about the changing role of censorship in an Internet age, with references to ONI work. The final point, made in the story by Ethan Zuckerman, draws an appropriate connection to the Green Dam story in China from a few weeks ago.
This is just thrilling.
Seattle University School of Law is hosting a workshop on the “Future of the Legal Course Book.” It’s a very nicely organized, timely session, brought together by Prof. David Skover, Ron Collins, and deans Ed Rubin of Vanderbilt and Kellye Testy of Seattle University. On the table: how should we rethink the legal case book in the name of improving pedagogy in law schools?
It occurs to me is that the key conceptual shift is that virtually all information – whether or not related to the law – is now created, stored, and shared in digital format for starters. Our students, too, are “born digital.” Our students have a very different relationship to information today than they did a generation ago. They were small children when the DVD replaced the VCR. Research, for our students, is more likely to mean a Google or Lexis search from a web browser than a trip to the library. They rarely, if ever, buy the newspaper in hard copy, but they graze through copious amounts of news and other information online. (Even some law professors are now more comfortable in the use of online tools for legal research and analysis than in the system of Reporters and Pocket Parts.) Law school community members are learning, accessing information, and expressing themselves in new, digitally-inspired ways – sometimes good, sometimes not so good. Others outside our community are increasingly learning about us and what we do from our web presence.
Five to ten years from now, I think it’s likely that legal case books, too, will be born digital — and then rendered in a variety of formats, whether a good old-fashioned book or a Kindle/eReader file or a series of web pages and interactive exercises. Updates could happen online, wiki-style (or not, if authors want to lock things down into a single format or series of files). Faculty and teachers could click and unclick cases and lessons and questions that they’d like to use in class. One could imagine that some students would click “buy in paper” and would get a print-on-demand version of the book sent overnight to them in the mail (say, for $49.95). Others would click “buy it for my Tablet/Reader/Kindle/Whatever” (for $49.95 minus some discount). Still others, perhaps hearing-impaired students, would click on “read it to me,” and so forth.
There are surely reasons why such a future may not come to pass. Some have raised concerns about legacy IP rights, strong interests by publishers in the current regime, and so forth, as barriers to such a future. I think that the primary question to ask is about new investments: the bulk of our new investment in teaching materials and platforms be placed in materials that are cleared in a way that facilitates this future. The barriers we should focus on are those that stand in the way of our shifting (at least some of) of new investments (of time, money, etc.) from one primarily oriented toward the analog to one that has a substantial digital emphasis in the first instance.
To be clear: Books remain important. Books are not going away anytime soon; nor should they. Hard-copies of books are important on many levels. Many people prefer to read hard-copies of books to digital forms of books, despite massive ongoing investments in technologies like the Sony Reader, the Amazon Kindle, and new technologies at the MIT Media Lab; we like to curl up with them in bed, collect them on bookshelves as signals of our knowledge (or for easy access), take them to the beach, and so forth. Books represent a stable format, unlikely the constantly-changing digital formats that imperil digital record-keeping processes over the long-term. Books are the cornerstone, for now at least, of the large and important publishing industry, whose leaders play an important role in democracies and cultures around the world. Books have the advantage, under United States law at least, of being covered by the first sale doctrine (you can give them away, or lend them, or sell them in a secondary market). But books have downsides, too – the “slow fire” phenomenon, the high cost of production (compared to their digital counterparts), and the high cost of storage and distribution. And, as many have pointed out here in Seattle, the presumption of *only* the traditional form of the book for case-based law teaching is inhibiting experimentation with new pedagogies.
As law schools, I think our work in the area of academic computing should be to facilitate this bright future of course materials born digital and rendered in various formats. We need to make it easy for faculty to experiment with new technologies in support of their teaching, research, and scholarship – especially in an era of large-scale curricular reform at places like Vanderbilt, Harvard, and others.
And there’s a need for leadership across schools, too, to develop the platform that makes this future possible. There are building blocks coming together: CALI’s eLangdell, Rice’s Connexions, and so forth. Publishers have a role to play here, too, both through their own experimentation and participation with broader, open efforts. It will be fun to be part of such an effort.
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.
Learning, Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media is the fourth book I’ve read in the MacArthur/MIT Press Series on Digital Media and Learning. This volume, edited by Anna Everett, is the furthest from my own field — law — and, for me, the most challenging.
Prof. Everett’s opening essay, (which follows the excellent foreword by the series authors, as with each volume in the series), is an effective overview of what follows in the volume. She takes up the familiar debate about the term “digital divide” and why it now rankles more than it helps. She also reminds us that the old joke about how online nobody knows you’re a dog is no longer true, with the advent of rich media and other “advances” in digital technology and how it’s used. I was left, from her chapter, with one line resonating in particular: “the color of the dog counts.” (p. 5)
The rest of the volume consists of three clusters. Future Visions and Excavated Pasts is the first. Dara Byrne leads off with a piece on the future of race. She pulls in and incorporates a series of great quotes from message boards and other online public spaces; takes up (and takes on) John Rawls on the public/private question that runs through so many of our discussions of online life, (p. 22); and digs deep on the future of whether there will be dedicated sites for different races as we look ahead. The punchline is that yes, “minority youth must have access to dedicated online spaces, not just mainstream or ‘race neutral’ ones.” (p. 33)
Tyrone Taborn’s “Separating Race from Technology” is the other essay in this first cluster. Tayborn compares the likelihood of any group of students (“majority white or minority, rich or poor”) knowing Kobe Bryant and Dr. Mark Dean, the African-American engineer involved in IBM’s development of the first PC. His point is clear. As one of a series of possible solutions to the problem of too few minority youth having mentors and heroes in the technology world, Tayborn calls for Digital Media Cultural Mentoring (p. 56).
The second cluster of essays take up art and culture in the digital domain. Raiford Guins guides the reader through a tour of the ways that hip-hop culture, art, and use of technology come together online in the form of “black cultural production in the form of hip-hop 2.0.” (p. 78) It’s a must-read essay; heplful to read with a browser open and a fast broadband connection on tap. Guins has an intriguing segment on the future of the music label, among other take-aways (p. 69 – 70).
Guins’ essay is well-paired with Chela Sandoval and Guisela Latorre’s celebration and contextualization of Judy Baca’s work at the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) in LA. (One wonders why LA gets more than its fair share of intriguing digital media production experiments and narratives?) Among other things, Sandoval and Latorre challenge the notion of “digital youth” and the challenges of overly delimiting based just on age — a helpful reminder of a point too easily forgotten. (p. 85) In the final essay of the cluster, Antonio Lopez offers insights into (and concerns about) digital media literacy with respect to Native American populations, told largely in the first person.
Jessie Daniels opens the third cluster with a jarring piece on hate, racism, and white supremacy online. Daniels picks up on themes about the fallacy of colorblindness established in Anna Everett’s introduction. With a link to Henry Jenkins‘ work, Daniels argues for a “multiple literacies” approach to shaping our shared cultural future online and offline. (p. 148 – 50)
Yet more jarring, to me anyway, is Douglas Thomas’s piece on online gaming cultures, called “KPK, Inc.: Race, Nation, and Emergent Culture in Onling Games.” Thomas draws us into gaming environments only to reveal a culture of wild adventure, first-person shooter games, acquisition, treasure, money, and hate all rolled together. The crux of his argument centers on the “Korean problem,” (p. 163-4), a blend of bigotry, nationalism, and competitiveness. The racists that Thomas exposes “are usually Americans / Canadians and white” — and gamers. (p. 164) Along the way, Thomas distinguishes his approach from that of our Berkman colleague Beth Kolko. (p. 155-6)
The final essay, by Mohan Dutta, Graham Bodie, and Ambar Basus takes us in a new direction, further afield, toward the intersection of race, youth, Internet, health, and information. The authors synthesize a great deal of disparate information in unexpected ways. The essay left with an expanded frame of vision, and a frame that I never would have come up with on my own. Their punchline: “disparities in technology uses and health information seeking reflect broader structural disparaties in society that adversely affect communities of color.” (p. 192)
On balance, this collection of essays hangs together very well. Each essay takes a on strong point of view. Overall, the collection both informed my thinking and provoked more by raising hard issues about the impact of growing up online for race, ethnicity, identity, and health.
Hip-hip-hooray for Creative Commons on its fifth birthday today! Thanks to Larry, Joichi, and all the heroes of a free culture who have worked so hard on CC, around the world, for the past half-decade. If you want to help, there’s still time to pitch in: CC is $470,000 of the way toward $500,000 in individual contributions. Click here to be part of that last $30,000.
Today, I’m in Montreal for La Boule de Cristal, talking about Digital Natives and Digital Identity — or, apparently, La gestion des identites, en francais. It’s quite a venue and a huge event, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and lots of Montreal-based researchers and entrepreneurs.
Prof. Yochai Benkler is making the argument(s) of his new book, The Wealth of Networks, (500+ pages; buy it or write about it),
in 30 minutes here in Hauser 102 at HLS. Whew — a lot of big
ideas, and big words, in a short space. He is considering two
1) What are the stable changes in the production of human knowledge and information?
- Commons-based production: the key is production without exclusion.
- Peer-production: large-scale cooperation among human contributors
without price signals or managerial commands. Free and open
source software is hard to argue with, because it’s succeeded in the
marketplace. But the phenomenon of peer production is in fact
- Most critical shift in terms of new opportunities: new platforms for
self-expression and collaboration. People are trying to make
money from getting the point that platforms for self-expression can be
powerful: that’s what Web 2.0 is.
- IBM makes more in revenues from Linux-related activities than from patent revenues.
- These changes are a challenge to incumbent business models.
These changes are threatened by IP laws and other funky new technology
2) And on to the politics: why should we care about the outcome of these political debates?
- Three reasons to care: autonomy (more we can do ourselves, or in
loose collaboration with others — see David Weinberger, Project Gutenberg), justice and
development, and democracy.
- There is no major democratic state that doesn’t post-date the rise of
mass media. What does democracy look like when we introduce
social production? Pentagon Paper is an early and important
example. Diebold is a new one, in the lead-up to the 2004
another, with Bev Harris and her distributed friends. (Read the
Yale Law School Prof. Yochai Benkler is here at Berkman for the day as
part of his book tour for The Wealth of Networks. At fellows’
hour, prompted by a back-and-forth about whether Cass Sunstein was
right in his famous Republic.com argument (about the Daily Me), David
Weinberger took issue with the idea that we should read or listen to
those with whom we disagree. “I do not,” he said, “have an open
mind. It would take the Rapture to convince me that Bush was
right.” One for the quote wall.
John Clippinger says that it’s really about structuring different kinds
of conversations, not necessarily about eating our spinach and
[fill-in-the-blank-radio-shock-jock] with whom one disagrees.