You Are Not a Digital Native: on the publication of the Homeland paperback, a letter to kids

The US paperback of my novel Homeland comes out today, and I've written an open letter to teenagers for Tor.com to celebrate it: You Are Not a Digital Native. I used the opportunity to draw a connection between kids being told that as "digital natives," everything they do embodies some mystical truth about what the Internet is for, and the way that surveillance companies like Facebook suck up their personal data by the truckload and excuse themselves by saying "digital natives" have demonstrated that privacy is dead.

As researchers like danah boyd have pointed out, a much more plausible explanation for teens' privacy disclosures is that they're making mistakes, because they're teenagers, and teenagers learn to be adults by making (and learning from) mistakes. I finish the piece with a list of tools that teens can use to have a more private, more fulfilling online social life.

They say that the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II ordered a group of children to be raised without any human interaction so that he could observe their “natural” behavior, untainted by human culture, and find out the true, deep nature of the human animal.

If you were born around the turn of the 21st century, you’ve probably had to endure someone calling you a “digital native” at least once. At first, this kind of sounds like a good thing to be—raised without the taint of the offline world, and so imbued with a kind of mystic sixth sense about how the Internet should be.

But children aren’t mystic innocents. They’re young people, learning how to be adult people, and they learn how to be adults the way all humans learn: by making mistakes. All humans screw up, but kids have an excuse: they haven’t yet learned the lessons the screw-ups can impart. If you want to double your success rate, you have to triple your failure rate.

The problem with being a “digital native” is that it transforms all of your screw-ups into revealed deep truths about how humans are supposed to use the Internet. So if you make mistakes with your Internet privacy, not only do the companies who set the stage for those mistakes (and profited from them) get off Scot-free, but everyone else who raises privacy concerns is dismissed out of hand. After all, if the “digital natives” supposedly don’t care about their privacy, then anyone who does is a laughable, dinosauric idiot, who isn’t Down With the Kids.

You Are Not a Digital Native: Privacy in the Age of the Internet

Kickstarting a multilingual kids' picture book about humanism

The Croatian Center for Civil Courage, a "feminist and free thinking organization," is kickstarting a kids' picture book called Humanism for Children, seeking funds to translate and publish it in English and German (it's already in Bosnian and Croatian). The book consists of "Humanism is for everybody" (an introduction to humanism and scientific ideas) and "How to live a fulfilling life" -- advice on being a "a thoughtful, jovial, rational and cheerful person" without religious stricture. £20 gets you an English copy.

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What if we admitted to kids that most sex is for pleasure?

Alice Dreger works with intersex kids, and takes an admirably frank approach to talking about sex with her own kid. She's noticed lots of differences between her approach and that of other parents, but the biggest one is that she tells her son that people have sex for pleasure. Her piece about this, precipitated by her kid bringing home a notice that the class would be talking about sex and HIV/AIDS, is a kind of model of rational, sex-positive parenting that made me want to clip it out and stick it on the fridge for future reference.

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16 year old Canadian arrested for over 30 "swattings"


A 16-year-old Canadian male has been arrested for calling in over 30 "swattings," bomb threats and other hoax calls to emergency services in North America. The young man is alleged to be the operator of @ProbablyOnion on Twitter, which had previously advertised swattings (sending SWAT teams to your enemies' homes by reporting phony hostage-takings there, advising police that someone matching your victim's description is on the scene, armed and out of control) as a service, and had bragged of swatting computer crime journalism Brian Krebs twice. Krebs had previously caught a kid who swatted him, and outed him to his father -- this may have made him a target for other swatters.

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Justice League baby socks


The Justice League Infant Socks 6-Pack ($15) is a pretty sweet new-baby gift, likely to be put to grateful use, and a delight when mix-and-matched (baby-socks being the sort of thing that disappear in the wash because they crumple to the size of a spitball). I still harbor free-floating guilt about some of the awesome baby-clothes we got when Poesy was born, because in the hurly-burly of consta-pooping and grosteque sleeplessness, a ton of them ended up being outgrown before they were worn. The exceptions: socks and onesies.

Justice League Infant Socks 6-Pack

9th grader ignored by school board runs for a seat on the board

Bridget Erickson, a freshman at St Paul, MN's Nova Classical Academy tried unsuccessfully to get the school board to create a student advisory seat on the board. Roundly ignored, she turned to the by-laws governing the board and discovered that there was no minimum age for board members, so she's now she's running for a full-fledged seat on the Nova Classical Academy school board.

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Kids are mostly sexually solicited online by classmates, peers, teens

The respected Crimes Against Children Research Center reports that one in seven children is sexually exploited online. This figure is both credible and alarming. But the context is vital: as danah boyd writes, the average predator isn't a twisted older man trawling for kids; rather, "most children are sexually solicited by their classmates, peers, or young adults just a few years older than they are."

Now, it's absolutely possible for a child to sexually exploit another child, so this isn't to minimize the potential harm to kids. But for so long as we model the threat to kids as being weird, strange grownups, rather than the young people they know and see every day, we will fail to prepare them to comport themselves wisely and safely.

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Review: This One Summer

Cory Doctorow reviews Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s brilliant coming-of-age graphic novel for young adults.

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How to Talk to Your Children About Mass Surveillance


In my latest Locus column, How to Talk to Your Children About Mass Surveillance, I tell the story of how I explained the Snowden leaks to my six-year-old, and the surprising interest and comprehension she showed during our talk and afterwards. Kids, it seems, intuitively understand what it's like to be constantly monitored by unaccountable, self-appointed authority figures!

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Star Wars creature pancakes


Amazing pancake artist Nathan Shields and his kids (previously) love commemorating their lives' milestones with artful carbs. Most recently, six-year-old Gryphon Shields got to enjoy Star Wars: A New Hope for the first time, and Nathan memorialized the occasion with these gorgeous Star Wars creature pancakes.

Star Wars creatures 1

Kickstarting Maker's Alphabet: an ABC book that celebrates creativity

Melody writes, "We're grad students in the MFA Interaction Design program at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. We launched a Kickstarter project called Maker's Alphabet. It's an ABC book that features whimsical illustrations and verses to celebrate creativity of all stripes."

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Daniel Pinkwater's brilliant, hilarious, life-changing books as $3 ebooks


Children's author, essayist and hero of literature Daniel Pinkwater has revived his classic backlist as a line of DRM-free ebooks! Each one is only $3, and there are some astoundingly good titles in there.

Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy From Mars was my first Pinkwater, and it literally changed my life. It's your basic nerd-discovers-he-has-special-powers book, except it's not: it's got saucer cults, green death chili, mystic bikers, and a sweet and inclusive message about following your weird without looking down on others. It literally changed my life.

The Education of Robert Nifkin is another take on an Alan Mendelsohn-like story, but this time, it's all about taking charge of your own education and an alternative school where the inmates run the asylum. It's probably no coincidence that I ended up at a school much like Nifkin's after reading Mendelsohn (here's my full review).

Young Adults is a hilarious, bawdy romp through the conventions of young adult literature. When got my first paperback copy, I walked around for days, annoying my roommates by reading long passages from this at them until they forgave me because they were convulsed with laughter. Dadaism was never so funny.

Wingman is such a beautiful, compassionate book about race, comics, and a love affair with literature. I read my copy until it fell apart.

What can you say about the Snarkout Boys? They sneak out at night and go to an all-night B-movie palace where they have comic, X-Files-style adventures with the paranormal and diner food. The Snarkout Boys & The Avocado of Death and The Snarkout Boys & The Baconburg Horror comprise the canon.

Fat Men from Space is the greatest paen ever penned to sloppy cooking. If you can't get enough of Shopsin's in NYC, or find yourself throwing everything in a frying pan at 2AM, you need this book.

Then there's Chicago Days and Hoboken Nights, a memoir as a series of comic essays that tell the story of Pinkwater's boyhood, his training as an artist, his late-night hot-dogs, and the forces that made him into the towering force of literature that he is today.

There's so much more!

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Homebrew syringe hydraulic excavator

Here's a video of a young Brazilian man demonstrating justified pride and palpable pleasure as he puts his homebrew excavator, powered by syringe hydraulics, through its paces. Here's an Instructables post that takes you through building an ambitious syringe-hydraulics robot -- full of good ideas for your own syringe hydraulic projects.

Boy Makes DIY Excavator with Syringe Hydraulics (via Geekologie)

My daughter Poesy reviews Hilda and the Black Hound


Luke Pearson and London's Flying Eye Books have published the fourth Hildafolk kids' graphic novel, Hilda and the Black Hound. Like the earlier volumes (reviews: Hildafolk and Hilda and the Midnight Giant and Hilda and the Bird Parade), it's nothing less than magical, a Miyazaki-meets-Moomin story that is beautifully drawn and marvellously told.

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When it comes to learning computers, play is seriously important

Game on? Or game over? [PDF], a brief research report from the U Washington Information School, summarizes some of the findings from the TASCHA report on computer skills acquisition. This particular explainer deals with the relationship between playing games and goofing off on computers and learning to do "productive" things with them, finding (as Mimi Ito did, before) that horsing around is a critical component of mastering computers, and that labs that ban games and other forms of playful engagement with computers are hampering their ability to teach the people they're supposed to be serving. Cory 15