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Digital agenda and digital natives: Connecting in the Hague!

Digital agenda and digital natives
"Students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach."

--- Posted by Prabhat Agarwal, DG INFSO, Project Officer

"Students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach."

So begins Marc Presky's famous essay in which he coined the term "Digital Natives" -- those born typically after 1980, and raised in the connected digital world. Presky's main focus was on the revolution of the teaching world. But when we designed the Digital Agenda for Europe, we knew that we had to reach out to our own Digital Natives in Europe. Right from the beginning, and across a much wider set of policies.

And so we did.

In our house, it started with Neelie Kroes' visit to the Campus Party Europe last year, followed by a special event at last year's ICT conference, and then continued in the recruitment of a Young Advisors Group for the Digital Agenda, and in the launch of a special grant for young researchers under the Future and Emerging Technologies scheme. In parallel, our colleagues from DG Education and Culture launched a whole series of initiatives on education and employment for young people in Europe. This series of initiatives is called "Youth on the Move", another key flagship of the Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs.

Last week, our latest stop was the Hague.

Constantijn van Oranje and myself met with some 50 local university students for an interactive talk on what the Digital Agenda could mean for them. Most of them were enrolled in European Studies classes, and the discussion was exciting and concrete.

Facebook & privacy, Spotify & the internal market, the possibilities of Open Data, Silicon Valley & the European landscape, all the way to how to make your first million as an online entrepreneur, and even to what our future could look like in 2025.

Of course, we don't have all the answers, and this was not just a road-show of the Commission's policies. It was a chance to explain how we see things from our perspective: No matter how EU policy is prepared and adopted, the way this is done must be more open and easier to follow and understand, says a EU paper from 2001. I hope we honoured this during our discussion.

But the really interesting part was listening to what those students are concerned with most, and how they see the challenges of the digital revolution. I personally come away with one message: it's time that we connect up the Digital Natives across Europe.

To be continued.

Editor Connect's picture
Published in DSM blog


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When you say "it’s time that we connect up the Digital Natives across Europe" do you mean "we, the Commission"? And don't you think that Digital Natives are quite able to connect themselves and that the bigger problem is to connect the non-natives?
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Ron, quite right -- what I meant is that we could do more to catalyze networks of Digital Natives, across Europe, including the next generation of young technorati and researchers. Connecting the non-natives is also another important challenge, but wasn't the focus this time.  
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This sounds a little like ERASMUS for the internet… I don't think that's the task of the Commission to do that because it happens by itself. Researchers and technorati who are in the generation(s) of digital natives naturally develop networks and different to the pre-internet they are able to do that without big costs. And all of us who are researchers are anyway more or less obliged to network online and offline across Europe and beyond if we want to do proper research, make ourselves heard and see what the others are doing. So I have difficulties getting the point for what kind of "catalyst" a slow, bureaucratic and technologically backward organisation like the Commission could be. I'm exaggerating a little here but given the speed that it takes the institutions to adapt to new technologies and communication styles I mean it at least halfway through. ;)
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Well, one idea was to give support to a European event, which would network young techies and scientists. On all occasions where I've participated, this idea keeps coming back in one form or another. It's not really ERASMUS for the internet, but more an event where people can showcase, meet, and possibly talk to people who could back their ideas. 'Catalyst' here means using our ability to bring people together, not to dictate any tech trends.
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But this is already happening, organised by private and societal actors, for example here, here or here, to take just some examples from the tech & society/gov spectrum. What would be the unique contribution that the Commission could provide that can't emerge on its own? I'm not saying that there may not be such a spot, but I have difficulties to see where this would be. And I didn't understand "catalyst" as dictating trends - but in order to organise events that actually connect the right people to foster relationships and networks from which innovation may emerge an organisation like the Commission needs to be quite aware of what's going on right now, where the future may be and how to actually reach the right people. My impression over the last years has been that the Commission is quite risk-averse and even if some people on the working level "get it" they can't get their superiors to agree to innovative things because they are far from being "digital natives". In the end, "innovative" projects get outsourced to one of the three or four big private agencies in Brussels and for too much money you get an event with high-level speakers but with low-level impact, good food on taxpayers costs and a website that will be abandoned right after the event. What I want to say is that I am doubtful that a) there are areas where the Commission can identify room for useful networking that haven't been covered by others before and that b) given the usual institutional decision-making procedures it would able to set up an event that would be better for networking and/or innovation than something similar that is already organised by civil society, academia or the private sector. But maybe I'm wrong and I'd be glad if I was because this would be a positive surprise. I'm just not convinced, given that it took 10 years for some of the issues from the White Paper you have quoted above to emerge and many issues thereof are still far from being solved…
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I totally agree that the education system is out-dated. Just consider how much we use computers daily and how much computer skills we are taught at schools? Its not proportionate. The system is way out-dated and if we are to keep in touch of the USA and other digital leaders or if we are to overtake then we need to acknowledge and support the importance of computers, computing and all things digital!
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it’s time that we connect up the Digital Natives across Europe. I was born in 82 and studied computer science, working at a research, art center called Medialab-Prado. What maybe it´s better than connecting the people in an event is lowering the barriers to let people do things.. Platforms as Arduino, Processing, Markerbot,, are demonstrating how people develop imagination and skills if the tools are available. It would be very good to identify what are the barriers in wich the European Commission could help to solve. By the way, I´m leaving right now to attend a weekly meeting with more people to build open, free and neutral network in Madrid.   "it’s time that we connect up the Digital Natives across Europe." Follow us at