Friday, May 11, 2012

Digital Native myth

The idea that children are digital natives is at best inaccurate and at worst a lie.

It's weird how the glitz and glamour of technology can hypnotize even the sharpest people into believing silly ideas. If someone came out and tried to sell the idea that some children are literacy natives, we would scoff at them because we know that the ability to read and write, like all learning, is constructed from the inside out while interacting with our environment.

And yet, as soon as we start talking about smart phones, tablets, texting and other technologies, we get bamboozled into thinking that digital natives exist.

Children who have access to technology and are encouraged to use it in a playful and informal manner grow up to be adults who feel comfortable and competent around technology.

Children who have little to no access to technology and are discouraged from using it (usually out of fear and ignorance on behalf of the adults) grow up to be adults who feel uncomfortable and incompetent around technology.

All this has nothing to do with their DNA and everything to do with opportunity and affluence.


  1. Joe,

    Here is how I connect with the idea.

    Being a digital native is not necessarily an age thing it is a mindset and, as you point out it also has to do with affluence and opportunity. So while it is true that a young person can also have digital immigrant accent, it is our jobs as educators to change that. Unfortunately, there ARE indeed digital immigrant adults who are keeping students trapped in their past, blocking, banning, and not incorporating access to technology because that's how "they" the teacher/admin/policymaker do things.

    In this context, I think the terms provide a useful framework for thinking about the conversation.

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  3. I just view the idea of the digital native as anyone who grows up around technology (even if they don't have direct daily access to it). I don't think it means that children today don't require instruction in technology or that they emerge from the womb with an iPad in hand (thank goodness for the sake of their mothers) but if you grow up touching touchscreens at the gas station and viewing screens from dusk till dawn, (at home, at school, on the street, in stores -- we're surrounded) you will be more of a natural than those who had to stick their finger in a dial and draw a circle to call up their neighbors. I don't know if this is just semantics because I understand what you're saying. Just wanted to share with you how I view the very trendy term "digital native."

  4. So accurate. Another point - how can we consider them digital natives when they don't even know how to accurately search on Google? Many of my 7th graders don't know how to spell check, or print, or where to save, even in a document. We expect them to teach each other, but they truly are not natives.

  5. I agree that it's inaccurate, but I think at worst, it's a way to disempower young people with a back-handed compliment of a label when they bring their own knowledge to the table. AND it's a way to excuse teachers from not joining the modern world or bringing that world into the classroom.

  6. I wrote a blog post on the same topic after facing many frustrations with my 8th grade students who were not the tech-savvy teens I had expected them to be. Kids who grow up with technology learn to play with it - but need lots of instruction in how to use it for academic purposes...