Saturday, February 12, 2011

Restless (Digital) Natives

I've been reading Young People, Ethics, and the New Digital Media: A Synthesis from the Good Play Project (the Kindle version is free), and I was so very happy to see it mentioned that "[a]s the Berkman Center's Digital Natives Project points out, not all youth are "digital natives," nor are all "digital natives" young people." While the Berkman Center refutes the assertion that all youth are digital natives, John Palfrey defines the difference.

I absolutely detest the phrases "digital natives" and "digital immigrants." I only ever hear these phrases used by middle aged (or older) folks in academia who are afraid of technology and are in awe of all the alleged computer knowledge those born after 1992 apparently have.

Furthermore, whenever I hear these terms (invariably at academic conferences, although I was first introduced to the phrases by one of my Methods teachers at Stony Brook University), the implication had always been that those who were young had implicit, extensive computer knowledge, while the rest of us ancients did not, simply based on our age.

I took issue with that. It implied that those who were young knew more than how to e-mail or was more involved online than social networking, had more innate knowledge of computers than everyone else.

The students I know - middle school students, high school students, and undergrads - do not blog or have their own websites; although several of my college classmate friends have their own blogs, my friends, tend to be a bit more inclined to write for their own volition.

But even when I was an undergrad - not that long ago - students five to 10 years younger than I knew much less than I when it came to computers. For my undergrad blogging assignments - done in Methods II, in which we were to blog about our experiences observing 50 hours of secondary classroom instruction - I the only student who already had a blog; many of the other students were confused as to how to set up their blogs.  Few posted regularly; so far as I know, none continued posting after the semester was over, even in a new blog. One student had been confused to the extent that instead of continuing to create new posts, she created one initial post and proceeded to leave comments on this initial post. Meanwhile, I maintained several blogs that I had been keeping for years, and also had my own website and domain, which I updated with my own admittedly rudimentary knowledge of HTML.

Like everything else, this knowledge had to be acquired. Simply being born at the same time of such technological proliferation does not mean that one will automatically have access to that expertise; it's comparable to saying that because one has a book in the house, one will just know how to read. One has to be taught.

Much of this is the circles one runs in, which is why phrases like "digital natives" and "digital immigrants" annoy me so much. Techy friends my age (and my techy friends are generally a small number of years older than I) have been doing things like taking apart and putting together computers since the Amiga days, and creating their own computer languages for decades. To my mind, that person who would be otherwise labelled a "digital immigrant" is much more "native" than a student whose elementary school has computers.

The older I get, the rantier I seem to get.

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