A digital native coordinating digital natives

Posted by Samuel Tettner at Oct 20, 2010 01:40 PM |
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It’s been about a month since I got to Bangalore, “The Garden City”, and I joined the Center for Internet and Society, with whom I had been talking since late April. At CIS, I’ve been coordinating a project called “Digital Natives with a Cause?”

It’s been about a month since I got to Bangalore, “The Garden City”, and I joined the Center for Internet and Society, with whom I had been talking since late April.  At CIS, I’ve been coordinating a project called “Digital Natives with a Cause?” DN is an international (which means I get to travel), collaborative (which means I get to talk to a lot of people) research (which means I get to use my brain) project. So far, being involved with DN has proven to be a very interesting affair, because the exercise has revealed aspects which I had not originally thought to be a part of this experience. I am 23 years old, grew up in Venezuela, studied in the US and now work in India. My understanding of reality is deeply informed by the approach I take to and my engagement with the internet. Being connected to the cloud has become a central part of my persona, a defining aspect of my personality and a central component of my goals in life. I am what my bosses would call a Digital Native, and my job is part of a greater global effort to document how people like myself engage with political and social questions in emerging information societies. My job is to basically study myself. Ok, maybe that is a bit too simplistic, but it is not entirely false. As a digital natives coordinating a social project which aims to document how digital natives engage with social projects I feel like I am part of a M.C Escher painting. I think Douglas Hofstadter will appear to me in a dream one of these days and explain to me how I am just part of infinite loops of DN projects aiming to document DN projects aiming to document DN projects and so on. Maybe it is DN projects all the way down and not turtles. Maybe my project is a meta-project, similar to how Google is not a website but a meta-website (in the sense that it is not a website in itself, but a tool through which one interacts with other websites).  These are the kind of thoughts that occur to a digital native tasked with reflecting about himself from 9 to 5.

Whatever the philosophical framework you choose to apply to my situation, there are some cools aspects worth discussing. First, I do get to use myself as a case study. Whenever I have to think how the people with whom I am working with think, all I have to do is think like I would. Secondly, I am privileged enough to learn about myself.  I like to use development approaches to describing social transformations, so I like concepts like access to resources, livelihoods, empowerment, decision-making abilities etc. From this stand, digital natives are revolutionizing pre-information age paradigms and shattering off-line civic and political expectations. I find it impossible not to draw parallels between my own life and these greater societal shifts that have been occurring in the last 20 years. Getting to see myself and my identity from a greater, more complex and perhaps more intellectually refined point of view, in which my composition is not a random occurrence but the precise result of multiple developmental processes occurring in the societies where I grew up is, a fantastically eye-opening exercise. This does have its downsides, for sometimes I reach the disappointing conclusion that some of my thoughts are not original: my ideas are not a product of my hard work and creativity; they’re the deterministic result of societal forces greater than me.

Either way, I see the validation of the importance of my project in my own life. If a 23 year old man whose mother language is not English can become a research coordinator in India, anything is possible in this day and age.  We are planning an international workshop in South Africa, where digital natives from all over Africa will get a chance to meet, interact, and learn about their social projects. I sorted through over 400 applications, and the end result was a sense of awe and hope, for the amount of young people utilizing the internet and mobile technologies for social and political causes was staggering.  If my job is to work with these incredibly talented and driven young men and woman, in a collaborative effort to better understand how they (of should I say we?) are creating new landscapes of action to bring forth development in the world, then I am in a good place.

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Samuel Tettner

The child of Jewish Romanian immigrant and Italian-Venezuelan parents, Samuel has always had an eclectic identity and personality. At age 15, he emigrated to the United States and went on to study public policy with a concentration on philosophy, science & technology. Since January 2010, Samuel resides in India, where he co-coordinates the Digital Natives with a Cause? project. His interests include information and innovation systems, technology-enabled education, knowledge networks, and all that is open-source, collaborative and dynamic.