The fallacy of the digital native

iPhone using the Wikitude application, demonst...

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The term “digital native” is used so much these days.  I have to start this post by holding my hand up and saying that I have been as guilty of using this phrase as any.

But are we making a massive error in using a blanket phrase for a whole generation of people who happen to be born at the same time?

Here are my arguments against the phrase:

(1) The availability of digital technology to the younger generation is not a level playing field…we cannot really compare middle class youngsters in the U.S. and U.K. to their fellow generation  in the slums of Mumbai or the shanty towns of South Africa or Brazil.

(2) Even if the children do have access to the technology we cannot assume that they all have a proficiency for using it. There are too many examples of young people who cannot search the net properly and rely on Google for large sections of their written work (basically plagiarism). They cannot use bookmarking tools like Delicious or Diigo to study using the net, they do not know how to effectively communicate with each other using videoconferencing, audio link-ups. They may use their mobile phones but are most likely to use them for texting and playing games.

(3) The term “digital native” denotes that everyone born before a certain date is not able to have a “natural facility” with the use of digital technology. This is plainly wrong. There are many people who would be described as “digital immigrants” who are very well versed in using social media, communications tools, search engines, bookmarking and even writing original blog pieces. A good example of this is Google Plus (which I am a proud member of) which seems to be full of thirty-plus people who are immersed in the new digital age and are fascinated by Augmented Reality, next generation video games, technology in education and the ongoing discussion about e-books replacing real books.

So my point is this: we cannot use a blanket phrase to describe a generation and in fact, we need to look at the shortcomings in terms of availability and usage of digital technology for our younger generation and the children that will be following them. We cannot assume that they will be able to use it effectively (if at all) and if that is the case then there will be a real loss to the world (and our future) in their inability to use the powerful tools to help solve their problems and ours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Responses

  1. Is the term digital native just mean that they were born into a time where digital technologies existed? I am not sure that it means they are proficient. When you take the terms “native” and “immigrants” does it not mean where they were born as opposed to what they can do? My parents were born in Greece and immigrated to Canada. I was born in Canada. If I only spoke Greek and not English, I still would be a native of Canada.

    Has the term been misinterpreted to have this idea that it discusses proficiency, not just the time people were born?

  2. I have to agree with George. Kids born in the 90′s up until recently are very good at using technology however, the majority of them are not good at using the tech to learn. They can text, IM, video chat and update facebook status all at once, however they have a difficult time using something like Glogster instead of a traditional book review. They view tech like air, it’s always been there. They have a difficultly using tech as a learning tool.

    • Hi Patty,
      I cannot agree with you and George more and therein lies our task as educators… because there is a feeling out there that access to the tools means good use and that is certainly not the case.

  3. I must say that I have hated both digital native and digital immigrant from their inception. Unfortunately, the terms do imply proficiency otherwise I’m not sure why they would even exist.

    I guess the litmus test would be Steve Jobs. By definition, he is a digital immigrant. What would be the purpose of labeling him as such? What additional, relevant information would be gleaned by classifying him as a digital immigrant? None that I can see, thus making the term irrelevant in my mind.

    Unless the terms add something of value what good are they?

  4. I have always believed that the youngsters of today have “computer savvy” which makes them generally pretty comfortable with all things digital, but it certainly says nothing for their depth of understanding of the digital tools or their application in other areas. Being a much older person who has been using computers for probably double the life-span of many of the so-called digital natives, I object strongly to it even being suggested that I am a digital immigrant. It has always been my belief that age has little to do with ability on computers and the desire to understand and master them, but ATTITUDE has everything to do with it.

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