I have worked with self-taught young programmers (aged 18 and under) in Young Rewired State since 2009; and in 1997 I gave birth to my own little digital native, and in 2002, another. My passion for learning, observing and being amongst networked communities in various forms, means that I have begun to see some interesting trends and patterns that are fascinating, and I am going to write a series of things about this. Here is the second (the first is here) and in this series I refer to the 97er. By this I mean child born in 1997 OR LATER: The true digital natives.
Communication in whatever form relies on some form of individual identity. One person identifying themselves to another. In networked online communities this can range from the man masquerading as a young child in a games forum through to a person identifying as an expert in brain surgery or Brahms in associated expert communities. One thing that unites online communities and the digital space, is communication. And so identity becomes interesting.
Who are you?
Identifying yourself offline is easy, there are legal documents that you can produce to prove who you are. It is nigh on impossible to incorporate offline identifiers to the online space – as I am sure many a public sector organisation can tell you!
There can not be one notion or verifiable method of identifying that anyone is who they say they are in an unseen online world, and the 97ers know this. Your name, who you say you are, means nothing. You have to prove you are who you say you are.
And so the 97ers instinctively use story-telling and detective work/collaboration to verify you are who you say you are. To take Facebook as a very crude example of this (it has become much more sophisticated but the same identifying rules apply).
- You say you are someone, a name.
- Not always your given name, maybe an online name, maybe a descriptive name, but a name none-the-less.
- You verify who you are with photographs.
- No passport or driving agency can verify these photographs in this maverick world, so you are visually identified by being seen in photographs with people other people in your chosen network will know.
- You tell stories through posts about what you are doing and with whom.
- You share photographs to verify these stories and tag people with you, who can untag or publicly deny you if you are lying.
- You join groups and networks of people with shared interests, using your FB persona to verify your identity.
I hope this Facebook example makes sense, but to translate how this affects the way a 97er secures identity let me tell a story…
Two years ago we ran a hack weekend for Refugees United. This was a charity who had charged themselves with the challenge to help reunite Somalian refugees in camps across Kenya. The problem they faced was that the best hope any refugee had of securing a space in a camp was to enter as an individual, so families and tribes shattered as they crossed the Kenyan borders. Reuniting these refugees was an issue because they were hard to identify, they had common names, they were reluctant to give any identifying papers and so the dedicated and passionate Refugees United team were frustrated.
They believed they were frustrated by technology. By cr*p phones. They wanted an app to magically make it all happen.
The 97ers and Rewired State devs, acknowledged the problem as a digital one, but started again…
The first question that had to be answered to solve this re-unification problem: how do these people identify themselves and recognise each other?
By the end of the weekend they had discovered:
- Name counts for nothing, often a ‘name’ changes depending on a person’s role in the group; be that family or tribe
- Many people could not read languages recognised by computers, so the visual identifiers for members of the family were important, visually identifying girls and boys with traditional western imagery sucked, because effectively boys wore ‘dresses’
- The tradition of sharing familial or traditional stories was the only unifying quantum
- No one trusted anyone, as a refugee – giving away your identity might betray you to authorities, so you select very carefully who you reveal your true self to
Sound familiar? Unsurprising that the beautiful balance of 97ers and other RS developers created a number of solutions, all story-based (and open-sourced of course) here…
I was hugely comforted by watching this process. I knew that my daughters and the YRSers were digitally savvy enough to cross check facts and verify a person. I knew they did not *want* to be fooled by someone masquerading as someone else – in the same way none of us do in any walk of life. And so I began to trust that these young people were more equipped than I was at protecting their own real life selves, but also, calling out the pretenders.
But the thing that intrigues me about this is:
When the 97ers come to power in industry, government and society (five years+ from now) how will they translate digital identity from the online world to the offline?
From 16 to seven
In the offline world we accept that our identity is a linear thing, we go from child to adult. As children from 0-16 we are required by law (in the UK) to partake in full time education, and are bound by the authority of parent/s as well as the State rule of law. We are just ‘child’. From 16+ we become categorised and segmented for various marketing and public service needs – increasingly multi-faceted, we become more complex with age.
Where we would traditionally be known to graduate from child to sophisticated consumer of targeted information as, for example: teacher, mother, fighter, socialist, artist, shoe fetishist, fitness fanatic, online dater and so on. The multiple personality we are gifted at 16 along with our National Insurance Number suddenly becomes our new identifier as an…
Online you cannot do this. The web is a community woven and choreographed by the 97ers and we must accept this. Identity is integral to community, and community is based around topical interests. What we must not do is try to police it, because then you start to play with identity.
Let me try to illustrate this. Until now a child below 16 years of age was identified as ‘child’. The gatekeepers were the teachers and parents.
I believe that the child becomes a multi-faceted character at a much earlier age. Seven year olds are teaching their parents how to use software products, (software products not built for the 7 year old, but built with the parent in mind). 14 year olds are learning CSS and java from 10 year olds in YRS. 10 year olds are learning their third computing language form a 14 year old and an 9 year old. They will also teach their peers.
At the same time the median nine year old is rubbish at maths and her sister is helping her finally nut those tables.
Then together they make a YouTube video on making meringue for every person with access to a search engine to know how to make the perfect meringue.
97ers are split personality teachers and consumers from as early as seven years old, if not earlier. I can only vouch for the seven year olds.
For a society looking at sustainability, I suggest we look at the multi-faceted personality of the 97ers. Re-assess your methodology for targeted messaging because it is irrelevant to the digital natives. Sustainability depends on the networked web of people learning, sharing and testing across boundaries, borders and time. The seven year olds matter as much as the 70 year olds. If they are in that 97er verified network, all you need to know is that they are a part of that network.
Age and name matter not. Can you verify your story?
To read the original post about 97ers go here
And to read the next one in the series, which tackles social activism and the 97er, go here
For those used to assuming that this applies to GenY, or The Millennials, here is a clarification