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

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9 Responses

  1. I agree. I tend to think of everyone as digital tourists now, just visiting, grabbing their souvenir, and leaving when they feel like it. The digital native idea that Prensky puts out there tend to assume WE need to change to meet this new generation’s needs…well that’s great if all their job interviews will be in facebook. Meeting half-way is the best way, and assuming that us X’ers and Boomer’s are out of touch is wrong. We built this stuff and set the standards that are still around today.

  2. Great post!
    It’s like I hear myself talking because I use exactly the same arguments as you do.
    I hate the term digital native and have started to call myself digital parent or digital pioneer in response…
    I will “retweet” this post on my weblog:-)

  3. I am so happy that this is now becoming the direction that “digital native” articles are taking. I too could never buy into the whole DN craze. One question that came to mind when I first read Prensky’s article was “What about the experiences us so called Digital Immigrants have with transfer of knowledge and adaptation in regards to technology?”

    Kill the DN talk, Boycott all conferences that have a pro DN session.

  4. 🙂 Quite agree! The sooner learning discussions get back to focusing on fitting methods to contexts, the better. Contexts, of course, include people but also budgets, goals, geography, physical resources, schedules, cross-curricular needs …….. Where people (staff and student) focus on the course subject rather than panic about the tools being used, the DN-style categories become irrelevant.

  5. […] Kill All the Digital Natives « Barry Dahl dot com […]

  6. Dave: digital tourists is a great term – meeting half-way is indeed what I recommend as well.

    Willem: Nice to hear form you again. I hope you don’t mind, but I am totally stealing your phrases digital pioneer and digital parent.

    David: you will have no conferences to attend. My suggestion is that you make the presentations that give the other side of the story – fair and balanced (oops, that phrase no longer means what it sounds like – thanks FOX)

    Gillian: great points. Fit methods to context. Perfect.

  7. Some initial research backs what you’re saying. I’m beating the same drum. Posted some links to the research in a prior post if you want to take a look. Prensky is now talking about digital maturity.

  8. You’re really right! It’s time to end the discussion about Gen-Y-Google-Einstein and its digital literacy in comparison with us, ‘Digital Immigrants’.

    It’s Trendmatcher Willem Karssenberg who brought me here. And I’m thankfull. You both have brought me back to the basics of reality!

  9. Interesting thought, that none of us can be considered digital native due to the unprecedented rate of technological change.

    I think the greater issue is about the technology haves vs. have-nots; several hundred million if not billions do not have access to simple instructional technology, leave aside the cutting edge. Mobile phones are changing that, but its only just beginning.

    This sense of being overwhelmed by technology is something I find prevalent in technologically advanced cultures (mostly western world). In developing nations, there is no sense of being overwhelmed by technology. Any technology that’s available easily and is cost-effective is adopted. Also, there is a simple ‘survival of the fittest’ amongst that technology, only what’s relevant and essential gets adopted by developing nations.

    It would quite safe for me to say, in India, its only the generation of individuals born in the early seventies, who saw the liberalization of the economy and import of new technology, that are comfortable with technology. Even amongst this demographic, there is clear evidence that points to the importance of socio-cultural strata also affect technology use, with a significant portion of this generation without access to technology. Simply put, less money, lower class have limited access to technology.

    Perhaps this digital native vs. immigrant theme is incongruent with technology adoption and use in the developed world; but it rings true for the developing world and will continue to affect instructional design and development across the board.

    Perhaps its time we broaden our horizons a bit and see the world is a much bigger and still unequal place.

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