The myth of the digital native
Challenges to the digital native/immigrant modelThe idea and its underlying connotations have been widely challenged. The model overlooks the fact that people can be less practised in using technology for reasons other than their age – for example by a lack of access to technology. Particular social groups of young people can be digitally excluded (Selwyn, 2009, p.372). Bennet et al (2008) point out that generalisations such as these can be dangerous. Some who are less interested or less adept can be overlooked due to their age, while the potential impact of socio-economic and cultural factors on digital capability can be forgotten (p.2). Helsper and Enyon (2009) examined what factors influence whether someone is a “digital native”. Their working definition of a digital native during their study was:
“someone who comes from a media rich household, who uses the Internet as a first port of call for information, multi-tasks using ICTs and uses the Internet to carry out a range of activities particularly those with a focus on learning”. (p.14)
- That “immigrants” don’t and can’t measure up. This is divisive and can lead to panic and inertia in those who feel they fit into this category; they may even feel that a lack of effort in developing further skills is justified.
- That those who have been and continue to be immersed in technology, are highly skilled in its use. Not all of those born after 1980 are comfortable with digital tools. And those who are confident in their abilities can often lack important capabilities of which they are unaware (you don’t know what you don’t know!). Viewing exposure to digital technology as synonymous with mastery of those digital tools can lead educators, policy-makers, businesses, and even citizens themselves to underestimate the support, education and practice required to develop the critical capabilities that constitute skillful digital citizens.
In the next step we’ll look at an alternative model that may prove an interesting contrast.“Arguments are often couched in dramatic language, proclaim a profound change in the world and pronounce stark generational differences. These characteristics are … evident throughout much of the digital natives literature” (Bennet et al., 2008, p.782).
DiscussionUse the Comments function, below, to discuss your own thoughts about the main points raised in this article.
Bibliography and References
- Bennet, S. et al (2008) The digital natives debate: a critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 39, no. 5.
- Cohen, Stanley (1973). Folk devils and moral panics. London: MacGibbon & Kee.
- Helsper, E. and Enyon, R. (2009) Digital natives: where is the evidence? British Educational Research Journal.
- Prensky, M. (2001) Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the horizon, vol. 9, no. 5.
- Prensky, M. (2012) Digital natives to digital wisdom: hopeful essays for 21st century education. Corwin.
- Selwyn, N. (2009) The digital native: myth and reality. Aslib Proceedings, vol. 6, no. 4.
Becoming a Digital Citizen: an Introduction to the Digital Society
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