Digital Natives = Digital Experts? Not exactly . . .
By Lauren O’Neil
Here's a question for our under-30 readers: Have you ever been asked by an older relative to install computer software, "delete a virus", or "look something up" online under the assumption that, because you're one of those "kids with their internet", you're also an expert when it comes to digital technology?
RT @LLRX: So-Called "Digital Natives" Not Media Savvy, New Study Shows - http://tinyurl.com/36qo6whI immediately rolled my eyes at the article's title and then clicked through to see who was hating on us damn entitled millennial hooligans now.
"In Google we trust." That may very well be the motto of today's young online users...That's how the article begins. Fair enough. I have likened Google to an omnipresent, all-knowing God on numerous occasions. No beef there.
there has been (a perhaps misguided) perception that the young are more digitally in-tune with the ways of the Web than others.
Yup. Based on the number of friends I have who still get confused by the "RT"s, "@"s and hashtags in my Twitter-Synced Facebook feed, I'd say that's pretty accurate.
What got me riled up was the article author's assertion that our demographic group has been dubbed "digital natives" due to our apparent tech-savvy.
"NO! We're called digital natives because we were born into a world where digital technology has always existed - we don't know any other way of life! It has nothing to do with how SAVVY we are!" I yelled at the screen - or something along those lines but probably less eloquent.
When Marc Prensky coined the term in 2001, he made the distinction between Digital Natives (Gen Y, Z and X-ers who are "native speakers" of the digital language of computers, video games and the internet) and Digital Immigrants (Our hip parents and grandparents - those who were not born into the digital world but have adopted many or most aspects of the new technology). He contends that Digital Immigrants are perfectly capable of learning this digital language, but that like a person who learns a spoken language later in life, they will always retain an accent.
"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." (page 2)To run with the metaphor of spoken language, I believe that some immigrants can come to master a language (accent or no accent) and speak it more fluently than one who was born and raised speaking it. It all comes down to education, hard work, natural intelligence and, as someone so poignantly pointed out when I first posted about this on my personal blog, attitude.
The same can be said for digital languages.
Millennials may have been able to "speak" technology from an early age, but it doesn't mean we can all speak it particularly well.
I know people twice my age who will run circles around my peers in the tech. department and, conversely, I know people half my age who can run circles around my elders when it comes to grammar and spelling.
But I`m getting off topic... The Northwestern University study that sparked this post isn't about how technologically adept students are in the online space as much as it's about how media literate they are online.
According to the researchers, it's not very.
The main findings of the study showed that digital natives tend to place a lot of blind faith in search engine brands and algorithms they don't even understand, judging the credibility of a source by its place on a results page. If a website ranks high on Google or Yahoo!, it MUST be legit, right?
My research methods professor would have said that with only 102 subjects from an isolated and relatively homegenous population, this study is hardly credible. However, based on personal observations and some of the scholarly research available on the subject, I’d say the authors findings are dead on.
Young people spend a lot of time online, but they don`t necessarily understand the online space. Most of us can navigate it to an extent, but the ones who can map it and create it are few and far between.
It pains me to say this, but hypersavvy youngsters seem to be the exception, not the rule - at least where I come from. There are lots of internet kids bopping around Toronto, but for every one of us geeksters there are 11 of our peers nearby asking for help with linking an email account to a shiny new smartphone.
Digital Natives are not Digital experts by default, and I don`t think it`s fair to expect them to be.
Had I not been interested in computers as a kid and then schooled in communications and information technology I'd probably be just as lost when it comes to batch resizing images and setting up SQL databases as my friends who went to university for Human Kinetics or English Literature.
It`s time to stop segregating web populations by age - we`re living in a multitechnocultural society here, people! It's 2010 for gawshsakes.
Young or old, male or female, Digital Native or Digital Immigrant, anyone who's got the gumption to go after it can be media literate and technologically fluent with the right education.
And therin lies the rub.
Critical web literacy isn't currently a part of the curriculum in many Canadian schools. There are fabulous resources available for educators who choose to integrate web media literacy lessons into their classrooms, but nothing is mandated beyond some basic media education units in the language program and THAT is problematic.
How will students learn to be web-savvy if they're left to figure out all of this 'new media' stuff on their own?
Methodological discrepancies aside, I wholeheartedly agree with the Northwestern University study researchers when they conclude that `'Further initiatives that help educate people in this domain are needed'.
The Canadian Media Awareness Network agrees. The non-profit organization, which has been pioneering the development of media literacy and digital literacy programs in Canada since in 1996, recently released a "Digital Literacy Paper" that calls for federal leadership in the creation of a "national digital literacy strategy to ensure all Canadians have the necessary skills to use digital technologies to their fullest potential."
A national digital literacy strategy... I love the sound of that.
What are your thoughts?
Lauren O’Neil is a recent graduate of the Master of Arts - Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario. She is rarely, if ever, spotted without a pink Blackberry in her hand and is fluent in both HTML and English. Please follow her on Twitter so that she can continue to build up her mad social media cred @laurenonizzle.