The fallacy of the digital native

iPhone using the Wikitude application, demonst...
Image via Wikipedia

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.