On Digital Natives

I’ve been having conversations recently about digital natives and digital immigrants. I’m an immigrant, as are all people born before the Internet.

The nature of the conversation is how we inhabit different worlds depending upon when we came to the digital  terrain. I noted several years ago that broadband access and, later, cellphones were so much a part of the lives of younger persons they considered them much as I consider air and water, a part of the natural world.

To me they are not. They are tools. They are external to my reality, something outside my thoughts that must be incorporated into life. Not so for digital natives. They are seamlessly integrated. There is no other reality, certainly not a set of tools that must be integrated into one’s life. The fact is these “digital tools” have always been present and available to the natives.

Recently, we had a speaker at our organization discussing new media. I was unable to attend and received a text message reminding me of the presentation. Later, I asked if the presentation had been captured so I could see and hear it. While it was streamed live it wasn’t captured because none of us thought to do this in advance. Now, this isn’t criticism of anyone, but it is illustrative of a simple fact.

To digital immigrants it’s likely that something as common as digital documentation requires prior thought. To the native it just comes naturally. That’s because content production has always been a part of the use of digital tools, whether that means capturing and sending photos or audio files, taking images with a cellphone or reporting via text message and saving the transcript. It doesn’t require second thought. Everything is recorded for posterity.

That’s one way we inhabit different worlds. Media that must be mastered in the world of the immigrant is part of the native’s environment. And our understanding of each other is surely affected by our worldview.

The Digital Natives website offers a range of discussion and other tools that shape the digital world. There’s an interesting discussion, for example, about the development of content by digital natives and how it is empowering. The site links to a youth-produced radio program on KUOW, University of Puget Sound, illustrating the value of content production.

The story of Bryce is one of many compelling, well-produced first-person accounts that illustrate the value of giving voice to a young person. But it also points to something more. Bryce is compelling because he’s thoughtful, authentic and articulate. And he’s fluent with the medium of radio.

I’m starting to look more widely and deeply at the digital divide between natives and immigrants, and how we perceive the world because of our proximity to digital media. If you have suggestions for sites, books, resources, or a story to share, I’d like to hear from you.

One thought on “On Digital Natives”

  1. Hello Larry,

    This was an excellent post and you explained a concept that I’ve not been able to put into words before so extremely well.

    I’m a technologist and also one of those few people who was on the internet back in 1991 before anyone knew or cared to find out what the internet was. This would be a different criteria within your explanation. I’ve grown up with the internet but it was 14.4kbs modems and you have to know the Unix operating system.

    That background has led me to the creation of WiHood. A virtual desktop and mobile phone service to bridge the digital divide globally. With WiHood, we use existing resources to supply everyone with their own virtual PC and mobile phone account. With WiHood, children and adults now have digital possibilities and opportunities.

    When I was a kid this is all I wanted was a chance. With WiHood, I hope to provide everyone with a chance to be more then what or whom they are today.

    I hope you understand what I am referring to and I do not come off being rude. I am simply passionate about what I believe in.

    Contact me if WiHood is interesting and you would like to know more.

    Thomas F. Anglero, CEO
    WiHood AS

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