"Digital Native" is a Misnomer

You know what happens when you have an idea for a post and you sit on it for too long? Someone else gets to it first! Luckily it happens to be the awesome PBS Idea Channel and they also happen to posit a lot of the same beliefs I have, albeit more democratically than I do.

You see, while they have opened a discussion around the idea of the Digital Native, I flat out disagree with it. Working in Academic Technology gives me an excellent view of both stereotyped groups (young and naturally gifted with technology versus old and hopeless with technology) and I’m prepared to tell you they’re totally wrong!

Sort of.

It’s true that given a random sampling of people from a younger demographic (of middle class and raised in the west) they are more likely to be comfortable with technology then a random sampling of older people from the same area and income level.** The key thing here is that educators and decision makers are conflating familiarity with expertise.

I’m familiar with cars because they’ve been around all my life, but that doesn’t make me a mechanic. Consider this before you make assumptions about anyone’s ability with technology. I’ve encountered young people handling technology with all the grace of an elephant playing a viola, and there are countless examples of people from the pre-digital-natives-generation that were absolutely stellar with technology (for example: all the scientists and engineers with the work whom we wouldn’t have any modern technology). This is particularly tricky when discussing security and privacy because not only is the grasp of technology not necessarily what you assume, but the cultural concept of what those things even are might be different. What we would call sharing some cultures would call spying. What we call cheating some cultures call collaborating.

Anyway, go watch the video (but just the first half, as the second half is always reserved to respond to comments of the previous episode).

Also, stop using the phrase “digital native”.

** Note: I admit this video made me catch myself in the fallacy of thinking of a world comprised only of people in my slice of it. A middle-class child born in 1990 to techy parents that live in California probably has a different relationship with technology than a middle-class child born in 1990 to farmers in Turkey, and it’s important to know whom we’re discussing when we label everyone under 35 as a Digital Native; particularly with education’s increasing focus on globalization.