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  • April 2009
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Kill All the Digital Natives

I mean, kill all the TALK about digital natives.

The digital natives/immigrants analogy has been around for most of this century. First reference I have seen is an article by Marc Prensky back in October 2001. Wikipedia defines digital natives as “A digital native is a person who has grown up with digital technology such as computers, the Internet, mobile phones and MP3.”

With all due respect to Mr. Prensky, I think the analogy was a bit off base from the beginning. The idea that a person born into a world after the creation of the various digital medias has some sort of advantage over older people is a bit of a leap of faith for me to make. Many of us old fogies were there when the personal computer was born. We’ve seen and used every iteration of Windows (or Mac OS, or whatever) that has ever come down the pike – both the good and the bad.

In other words: rather than being born into a world where all these technologies existed – we were there when these technologies were born and learned about them from the start – with all the learning and growing pains that are implied therein.

Just take MS Windows – PLEASE!! No, seriously. Consider a person (such as me) who used the first version of Windows (1.0) back in 1986, then became somewhat familiar with versions 2.0 and 2.1, and then really became a Windows user with versions 3.0 & 3.1. Windows 95 changed my world. Windows 98 seemed like another step forward (at the time). I gladly skipped ME, but jumped on board quickly with XP, and had several months of experience with Vista before upgrading back to XP. Not to mention Windows Mobile on my cellphone (yes, I know). So, you’re telling me that my daughter born in 1995 who has never used anything other than Win98 (briefly) and WinXP has some advantages over me when it comes to dealing with an operating system? Not a chance.

I think the same argument applies to multimedia such as audio, video, and several other digital technologies.  Many of us have gone through countless iterations of software, hardware, and other wares in order to learn how to do these things effectively and efficiently. Not everyone in my generation has done so, or even close to it, but plently of people have. There are certain advantages to experience that puts the noobs at a clear disadvantage, at least for a while.

Another reason to stop talking about digital natives and immigrants was recently articulated by Dr. Michael Wesch. Paraphrasing his recent talk in Tennessee, he said that technology is changing so fast that none of us are natives any more. I take that to mean that we’re all in the same boat of trying to keep from falling too far behind the curve and especially to find productive uses of the technologies that are being created and released on a daily basis.

BTW, I’m totally tired of attending one-hour sessions at conferences about the Digital Natives … err Millennials … err Net Gens … err Screenagers (and about 10 other names). Give it a rest. That dog is tired.

CC photo by cesarastudillo