What is a Digital Native?
Digital Natives was a term first used my Mark Prensky (2001) to refer to the generation of kids who grew up with digital technology as a given – those who don’t remember a world without the internet, mobile phones or mp3 players. The term is used to differentiate between those for whom digital technology is an embedded part of reality (natives) and those who have adapted to technology as adults, but grew up without it been everywhere (immigrants).
This distinction is not between early adopters and those who avoid all new technology, rather it is a generational distinction referring to the era and society in which one grew up. As with most generational theories there will be many individuals who do no conform to the description of their generation.
Even if you use email regularly, SMS on your mobile phone, have a Twitter and Facebook account, subscribe to Blogs, bank and shop online, and have the latest Blue Ray disc player, if you can remember life before the internet, MP3 players, and mobile phones been normal then you are not a digital native. (As a Gen Xer born in the early 70’s I am definitely not a digital native).
The basic premise is that digital natives and digital immigrants think about and approach technology differently. If you have adopted and assimilated technology into your lifestyle as an adult the way you use it and think about it will be different from those who have grown up with it as a given.
Prensky refers to immigrants having accents, that is, they speak the language but one can tell it’s not natural. For instance a native will be comfortable interacting with information on a screen, while an immigrant would prefer to print the information onto paper. Note the distinction made is not the ability of someone to access the information with technology, but the manner in which they use the technology.
As technology has become increasingly entrenched in modern society and the impact the digital communication revolution is having across all generations, many are now starting to question the validity of this distinction (topics we will address in future posts). Similarly there are great numbers of people who have grown up with technology yet have chosen to avoid it and have low levels of proficiency in its use. There is a risk in generalising or expecting certain affinities with technology purely because of someone’s age and demographic.
However there is an undeniable difference between those who have grown up during the digital age and those of us who have learnt to live with it.