Digital natives

A digital native is a person who was born during or after the general introduction of digital technologies and through interacting with digital technology from an early age, has a greater understanding of its concepts. Alternatively, this term can describe people born during or after the 1960s, as the Digital Age began at that time; but in most cases, the term focuses on people who grew up with the technology that became prevalent in the latter part of the 20th century and continues to evolve today.

Other discourse identifies a digital native as a person who understands the value of digital technology and uses this to seek out opportunities for implementing it with a view to make an impact.

This term has been used in several different contexts, such as education (Bennett, Maton & Kervin 2008), higher education (Jones & Shao 2011) and in association with the term New Millennium Learners (OECD 2008). A digital immigrant is an individual who was born before the existence of digital technology and adopted it to some extent later in life.


Museum of Social Media, launched in 2012, has included an exhibit on "Digital Natives & Friends."

Conflicts between generations

Due to the obvious divide set between digital natives and digital immigrants, sometimes both generations are forced to meet which commonly results in conflicting ideologies of digital technology. The everyday regime of worklife is becoming more technologically advanced with improved computers in offices, more complicated machinery in industry etc. With technology moving so fast it is hard for digital immigrants to keep up.

This creates conflicts among older supervisors and managers with the increasingly younger workforce. Similarly, parents clash with their children at home over gaming, texting, YouTube, Facebook and other Internet technology issues. Much of the world's Millennials and Generation Z members are digital natives.[4] According to law professor and educator John Palfrey, there may be substantial differences between digital natives and people born before 1980, in terms of how people see relationships and institutions and how they access information.[5]

Education, as Marc Prensky states, is the single largest problem facing the digital world as our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language. Immigrants suffer complications in teaching natives how to understand an environment which is "native" to them and foreign to Immigrants. Prensky's own preference to this problem is to invent computer games to teach digital natives the lessons they need to learn, no matter how serious. This ideology has already been introduced to a number of serious practicalities. For example, piloting an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in the army consists of someone sitting in front of a computer screen issuing commands to the UAV via a hand-held controller which resembles (in detail) the model of controllers that are used to play games on an Xbox 360 game console. (Jodie C Spreadbury, Army Recruiting and Training Division).[6]


Not everyone agrees with the language and underlying connotations of the digital native.[7][8] The term suggests a familiarity with technology that not all children and young adults who would be considered digital natives have, though some instead have an awkwardness with technology that not all digital immigrants have. This is depending on the location of the school and whether or not the students have access to these endless technologies. In its application, the concept of the digital native preferences those who grow up with technology as having a special status, ignoring the significant difference between familiarity and creative application. Like animals to their natural habitat, those who were raised in a digital world naturally develop a keen perception and understanding of their surroundings. Many children in this generation are empowered through technology because of this. Thus we should be able to use and teach using these technologies or examples of these technologies that the students have grown up with. These students are what Bennet described as “digital natives or the net generation, these young people are said to have been immersed in technology all their lives, imbuing them with sophisticated technical skills.” (Bennet, et, p. 775).[9] Future teachers will come to the table of education with much more experience with the use of social media than their predecessors. Their use of social media has the opportunity to influence the way that social media is and can be utilized as a tool for collaboration.

The term digital immigrant overlooks the fact that many people born before the digital age were the inventors, designers, developers and first users of digital technology and in this sense could be regarded as the original 'natives'. To confuse the prolific (and arguably superficial) use of digital technology by current adolescents as deep knowledge and understanding is potentially misleading and unhelpful to the discourse. The term also discounts the broader and more holistic knowledge, experience and understandings that older generations may have about digital technologies and their potential place in society.

Digital Natives term is synonymous with the term Digital Inclusion. Being digitally included means that you are innately able in using a smartphone or computer tablets. Crucially, there is debate over whether there is any adequate evidence for claims made about digital natives and their implications for education. Bennett, Maton & Kervin (2008), for example, critically review the research evidence and describe some accounts of digital natives as having an academic form of a moral panic.Modern technology has enabled the non-speaking to speak, the non-hearing to hear and the non-seeing to see.Recently lot of digital devices are used for special needy people and effectively used the media in education. Nachimuthu & Vijayakumari (2012). Using such a terminology is rather a sign of unfamiliarity and exoticism in relation to digital culture. Of course, nobody is "born digital"; as with any cultural technology, such as reading and writing, it is matter of access to education and experience.

It considers that all youths are digital natives in the modern age. However, this is not the case. It is primarily based on cultural differences and not by age. According to Henry Jenkins (2007), "Part of the challenge of this research is to understand the dynamics of who exactly is, and who is not, a digital native and what that means." There are underlying conflicts on the definition of the term "digital natives" and it is wrong to say that all modern age youths are placed in that particular category or that all older adults can be described as digital immigrants. Some adults are more tech savvy than a lot of children, depending on socio-economic standings, personal interests, etc., but as teachers we must include the world outside with which the children are familiar and use it inside the classroom.

The formulation of digital native is also challenged by researchers looking at emerging technology landscapes. The current discourse concentrates largely on developed technology and has a particular bias towards white, middle-class youth who have the privilege of access to technology. Nishant Shah (2009) says, "It is necessary to promote research that grasps that not all Digital Natives are equal. Each context will have certain norms by which digital nativity is understood and experienced. Dismantling the universal Digital Native and considering contextualised Digital Native identities might also help us move away from speaking of the Digital Native as a necessarily elite power-user of technology and understand the identity as a point of departure from earlier technology-mediated identities within those contexts." He also suggests that one way of understanding digital natives is to look at how they use digital technologies to engage with their immediate environments and initiate processes of social and personal change.[10]

It is possible to argue that digitality is not a birth-right but instead a product of cultural capital. According to its originator, Pierre Bordieu, cultural capital is defined as “the possession of certain cultural competencies, bodies of cultural knowledge, that provide for distinguished modes of cultural consumption”.[11] Familiarity with technology and ease of use is a form of social capital that allows those who possess it to advance in society.In fact, scholars have commented on the variability of technological literacy in different social groups. In “Communities, Cultural Capital and the Digital Divide,” Viviana Rojas calls this phenomenon a person's "techno-disposition." This familiarity with technology is one of many privileges granted by cultural capital. She defines techno-disposition more explicitly as " practices, perceptions and attitudes, technical education, awareness of technology, desires for information, job requirements, social relations with community members and community organizations, and geographical location."[12] One's techno-disposition, not simply one's access to technology, she argues, is at the root of any digital divide. [13]

As we move into the second decade of the 21st century, others are calling into question Prensky’s Digital/Immigrant dichotomy on different grounds. Jones & Shao (2011)[14] recently conducted a literature review for the UK Higher Education Academy which found that there was no empirical evidence of a single new generation of young students. They argued that complex changes were taking place but there was no evidence of a generation gap. The nature of the metaphor itself is challenged, with White and Le Cornu (2011) drawing attention to the difficulties that a language-based analogy introduces, especially when then linked to age and place. They also highlight the rapid technological advances that have been made in the last ten years, most notably in the advent of social networking platforms. White and Le Cornu therefore propose an alternative metaphor of Visitors and Residents which they suggest more accurately represents the ways in which learners engage with technology in a social networking age.

See also


  • Marc Prensky, On the Horizon (MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001)[7]
  • Public email to army about Xbox UAVs [8] public email b November 4, 2007 by Paul Maunders
  • Shah Nishant and Sunil Abraham, Digital Natives with a Cause? (2009) available online
  • White, D.S. and Le Cornu, A., ‘Visitors and Residents: A New Typology for Online Engagement’, First Monday, Vol 16 No 9, 5 September 2011 available online
  • Rojas, Viviana. “Communities, Cultural Capital and the Digital Divide” Media Access: Social and Psychological Dimensions of New Technology Use. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


Further reading

External links

  • The digital native wiki
  • Debate on Digital Native
  • EDUCAUSE 2007 Podcast: Tomorrow's Students: Are We Ready for the New 21st-Century Learners?
  • Commercial Media Viewing Habits: Digital Natives versus Digital Immigrants - Graduate Thesis Paper [9]
  • Video experience on a 20 month-old baby who discovers a touchscreen
  • Ongoing research project 'Digital Natives with a cause' being conducted by in India
  • Digital Learners in Higher Education research project
  • Net Gen Skeptic a blog that tracks the net generation discourse.
  • Museum of Social Media - a museum that includes scholarly articles on digital natives and the impact of social media.
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