According to education experts our ability to use new technologies could be tied to when we were born… and that divide may be the year 1980.
That’s right, the theory goes: If you were born after 1980 you are classed as a Digital Native, but those born before this date are Digital Immigrants. Seems like a pretty harsh classification, however, there is more to the concept than straight up ageism.
As each age group progresses it becomes more apparent that the current generations are naturally more comfortable using new technology than its predecessors. We are beginning to see younger children pick up a tablet or games console and use it without hassle or questioning the technology.
But how far has this progression gone? Are children nowadays naturally better equipped to handle technology due to their total immersion in it? Does this mean the older generations are not as adept simply because they haven’t been surrounded by it? Or are the pre 80’s generation technologically skilled in a different way?
These two divisions could be attributed to a generational theory of “Digital Nativity”.
The Digital Native is a person born after 1980, they have been surrounded by digital technology all their life. The technology may have changed and adapted over the 30 years but they have still been immersed in life of digital products.
A Digital Immigrant is a person born before 1980, they have not had technology as a standard in their life. Technology is something that they have had to learn and transfer their skills across too. Digital technology may have been something that they have had to adapt to use as they were not ‘brought up’ using it.
Education writer Mark Prensky coined the terms “Digital Native” and “Digital Immigrant” in 2001. His article focused on the relationship between teacher and student- The generational gap meant students were almost all Digital Natives, where as the teachers where usually Digital Immigrants. He looked into how the new generation of students learn and how the pre 1980 staff taught, comparing it to different languages, pre and post digital.
“Today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors.”
Prensky argues that the Digital Natives may prefer to learn in a different way focusing on graphics, links and interactive methods. He begins to discuss these attitudes as “language, natives are fluent in this technological language, compared to immigrants who have had to learn it.”
“As Digital Immigrants learn – like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their “accent,” that is, their foot in the past. The “digital immigrant accent” can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first, or in reading the manual for a program rather than assuming that the program itself will teach us to use it”
Do you have a digital immigrant accent?
This can be rather wide ranging from simply printing off documents as opposed to sharing them via a cloud? Physically showing people a website rather than sending a URL or not utilising digital communications- do you call friends abroad rather than use social media or Skype? All these, in various forms are traces of an ‘Immigrant accent’.
As the subject is so broad-ranging arguments and flaws are certainly picked in the idea of digital fluency- and it is worth noting it is only a concept…
First of all, a HUGE proportion of the technology used today was invented by people who would be classed as a “Digital Immigrant” under these terms. It would be very difficult to argue that someone like Tim Berners-Lee or Bill Gates is in anyway less technologically savvy than an 8 year old with an iPod. These are the Inventors of the ‘Digital Age’.
A Second issue would be that not all people born in the Digital Native age are ‘Tech Savvy’. Many young people are as uncomfortable with technology as anyone from earlier generations. Those born in the 1980’s may not have been privileged enough to grow up with technology first hand, be that practicality, financially or day to day use…
Carrying on with the privileged element, how can we assess different generations in countries without access to the modern electronics? Countries in Asia, North America and Europe are far more likely to spawn truly Digitally Native students compared to somewhere like Congo, that has been torn apart by war for the last 20 years. Are children from so called technologically advanced countries like Japan and Korea even a step ahead of the European generation?
What does it mean to be Native?
Well this is something again up for argument and would probably change for each generation within the natives. A Native was born after 1980 and is supposedly digitally adept, meaning they are as happy to pick up a smartphone and have it working as you are at programming your digital TV. It has been compared to being born naturally bilingual, the learning process has been a part of their ‘standard education’ and growing up.
All though they are all Digital Native, their skill-set would change from each generation within this classification. Those born in the 80’s may have been immersed in the world of technology, but that scene is something completely different to that of the 2000’s. An 80’s Native would probably have a better idea about simple coding, as many of the computers (and games) of the time required these commands to function.
A native of the 2000’s would possibly be less aware of the ‘backdoor’ programming needed to get their games to work. Consoles and PC’s simply work out of the box now. These Natives are however much more adapted to working with fast programs, quick responses and dealing with information in varied formats.
Can an Immigrant become Native?
Well, no. It’s a ‘generational thing’. Prensky described the digital age as a “new culture”. But unlike many political ‘new cultures’ like the Soviet Iron Curtain or Mao’s revolution, there is no definitive start, or forced participation.
The argument here is not that the Digital Immigrants are unable to grasp technological concepts- You could be far more adept with technology than your children- but instead you simply have never experienced total immersion in technology. At one point you did things the ‘old way’.
Will we have the next stage of Digital Native when total immersion technologies come through? At the moment our Natives could go ‘’Off Radar” if they really wanted to, unplug a few boxes and switch off their phone. But what happens when technology becomes inherent or embedded?
It’s all bit Orwell & 1984 but the concept of wearable tech and computer implants is basically upon us. Will the next generation of constantly ‘hard-wired’ children be any different to those who have the option?
So are you a Digital Native or Digital Immigrant and are you happy with that labelling? Do you think that the concept is too vague or is there good reason behind its labelling? And what’s next, is this new generation unable to grasp the fundementals of digital programming because everything is on a plate? or is it the problem of the teacher who cannot adapt to a new way of learning?