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Born digital


Photo by Sabine Niederer

— The term born digital is closely related, maybe even synonymous, with the term ‘natively digital’.

These materials thus originated in the digital realm and are in contrast with materials that are digitally reformatted, converted from an analogue to a digital format as a surrogate of the original form, and in contrast with materials that may have originated from a digital source but have been printed to paper. Examples include software, email, websites, wikis, electronic archives, and any other material that is created electronically and is not (or cannot be) printed.
This term is often used as reference to the object of study in the academic research of the Internet that gives focus to digital methods.[2] In other words, research strategies that follow the specifics of the Internet as a medium. In this context the term refers to digital materials that are specific, and/or born into the Internet, like the link and the tag, and devices, like search engines, and opposed to those materials that have migrated to it, in other words, have been digitally reformatted.
As relatively new objects of preservation, born digital materials pose particular problems for those who are trying to preserve and/or archive them. A first problem is constituted by the dynamic nature of purely digital resources, as archivist Susan Lazinger has stated. She further notes that born digital material is ‘more amorphous, less bibliographically controlled, and in danger of disappearing without a trace unless it is properly identified, documented for future access, and preserved technologically’.[3] In short, general digital preservation concerns are magnified for born digital materials as there is no 'back-up' analog counterpart.[4]
Outside the realm of preservation the term born digital has also acquired another, but very different meaning, referring to the group of people that were born and raised with near constant access to computers, mobile technology, and the Internet. Recently the term within this context also appeared in the title of a new book by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives (2008). This last term, the ‘digital native’, is not to be confused with the earlier mentioned natively digital. The digital native is a term coined by Marc Prensky, which similarly to the just mentioned born digital, references todays students as ‘native speakers’ of the digital language, in contrast to ‘digital immigrants’ who aren’t born into the digital world (Prensky, 2001).[5]

This description is written in the context of the Archive 2020 expert meeting.

[1] Introduction – Definitions and concepts. ‘Digital Preservation Coalition’. Retrieved on     20-04-2009.
[2] For more information see the website of the Digital Methods Initiative (DMI)
[3] Lazinger, Susan S. (2001). Digital Preservation and Metadata: History, Theory, Practice. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited. pp. 17.
[4] See also:
[5] Prensky, Marc. ‘Digital Natives, Digital immigrants’. (2001),%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf


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