Deconstructing the Digital Native/Immigrant Myth

By js, 13 February, 2011, 2 Comments

The blog post The Myth of the Digital Native argues that the terms digital native and digital immigrant create false dichotomies.

We hear a lot about the notion of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants, a concept originally suggested by Marc Prensky in a paper by the same name (PDF).  It makes an presumption that those born after the widespread introduction of digital technologies are somehow out of step with the world of technology, while those who were born and raised in the digital age are naturally able to function within it.

Betcher provides several examples when the terms, with their neat definitions, do not apply. Seniors who know how to do limited things with technology but are not aware of the many possibilities and tools they can use. Teenagers who have the technology at home, but never figure out how to set it up. His own kids who are adept with certain technologies but get stumped when new ones, which don’t follow the patterns of use they are used to, are introduced.

He says

I think we make a huge error of judgment if we assume that just because a 14 year old takes a lot of photos with their phone and sends 300+ texts a month that they have some sort of innate “native” status. We seem to assume that because they use tools like Google to find information, that they understand how to do it well.   And we assume that because they might have 200 friends on Facebook that they understand what it means to live in a digital world.

He also points out that there are many adults who don’t fit within the age range for digital native but who are very adept at using all types of technologies. If one only looked at their skills then they could be considered digital natives.

He also argues that not only is the myth based on simple dichotomies, but the danger comes when we take these dichotomies as truths and then act accordingly, especially in our schools.

It’s a dangerous myth because it has some real implications for how we approach technology in schools.  If we believe that “all kids are good with technology and all adults aren’t”, which, in its most basic terms, is the kind of polarised thinking that the native/immigrant myth perpetuates, it can play out in schools with all sorts of bizarre unstated beliefs…

He argues that there are some kids who are just good at technology like there are kids who are good swimmers. I think the key is that those who are good with technology, both young and old, are eager learners, ready to experiment, and good at seeing, using, and looking for patterns.

So instead of saying Digital Native we should use Digital Generation when we want to refer to those who were born into the internet age.

But the recipe for a Digital Native:

1. life long learning skills

2. comfortable with experimentation

3. excellent at discerning and applying patterns.


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2 Responses {+}
  • Jaime Armin Mejía

    All kinds of truth laid out in this entry above. Kids ain’t got no corner on tech; far from it. Tech keeps changing (I had a new OS installed at my office computer today, as well as the new Office package), so we have to learn to keep up with tech changes; if not, we’ll get exiled and left behind, no matter what age or generation we come from. In as much as I’d like tech to not change so as not to have to keep adapting and learning, I’d prefer for tech to keep improving and getting better and easier for me to use.

    Them be my two cents this evening. Nothing new.

  • Jaime Armin

    Morning after my initial response. I’ve been reading Bob Connors’ Composition-Rhetoric and have noticed twice that he uses a phrase to describe exploited adjuncts who teach composition. This phrase is something like they are grape pickers who are working under similarly exploited conditions. It seems to me that he’s making an allusion to Chicanos and Chicanas who worked in the grape fields of California before the 1970s, before the UFW, led by Chavez and Huerta, stepped in as a labor union to alleviate their bad working conditions. Of course, I take notice of Connors’ use of this kind of phrase, but I wonder if others, like my grad students, will take notice of this kind of allusion. In some ways, this usage is like the one being critiqued here/above, with the use of the metaphor concerning immigrants and natives. Clearly, there’s an allusion being made here by this use of such terms, and it’s important to us that such usage not gloss over real issues concerning the lack of access to digital technology by minorities. If this is what that author wants to get across, then say that; otherwise, his use of such metaphors is callously provocative, and this author should be taken to task for such usage. I also think Bob Connors needs to be take to task as well, since what grape workers go through is considerably more difficult than what adjuncts go through when teaching four or more sections of composition. There are clear differences in both kinds of labor which are significant. There’s a clear line of difference along prestige lines. Whose job would you want to have?

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