The Myth Of The Digital Natives

2014-04-03 14.12.05In the car on the way back from our holiday in Filey, Steph said to me that her friends were always surprised that I was on Facebook and Twitter long before she was.  I was working in cafe’s, using a tablet PC and enjoying the benefits of social networks before the term Digital Native was born.

I have four digital natives in my house right now, my eldest daughter back from Cambridge for the holidays who’s used a laptop and a smartphone all day long (including at school) for the last 10 years.  My younger daughters who have all had laptops and smartphones for the last 6.  They are accomplished users of technology and are quick to learn the simple apps on their iPhones.  Ideas, apps and fads spread through the school in hours.  They are true digital natives, BUT …

They are no more native than I am, or any of my friends and colleagues at work.  They lack understanding of the operating systems and apps that they use.  The lack of history that they have in computing means that they understand how to use, but not when to use or what to do when things go wrong.  The younger kids don’t even understand what an operating system or an application ‘is’.  Windows, IOS and Android are just brand names to them.  Apps are just visual interfaces to ‘something’ they don’t understand, they have little concept of what WIFI, 3G and Wired networks are, how they work etc.

This lack of history hinders them because without an understanding of the building blocks of computing, they struggle to diagnose problems, find workarounds to problems, discover new ways of using their devices, move data between devices, back things up.  My eldest daughter should be the exception, she’s in the top 1%, I’ve explained a lot to her, a few minutes with Google and she can solve most problems, but she still struggles with key fundamental concepts.  She wants to get a Raspberry Pie this summer so that she can fill this gap in her basic knowledge, start to program in Python and JavaScript, figure out what an operating system does, build a web server, create some web pages from scratch.

So my contention in that the digital native is not very relevant as a classification.  We have two generations who are natives now.  The youngsters AND the people in their 40-50’s who have used computers for the last 10-20 years every day, who have seen it all and know how all the pieces of computing fit together and work, people like me.  I can’t really remember a time without computers, they’ve been an extension of my brain for so long, longer than any of my children have been alive.  In all meaningful ways I’m the true digital native!

Todays picture is of Lobster/Crab traps piled up at Scarborough, I walked there from Filey this week.  In all this discussion of computing it’s nice to see some good old traditional ‘fishing’ still happening.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

3 Responses

  1. Stu Downes says:

    Steve, I’d take this a step further. We are failing to prepare the younger generation. My age of children lean to touch for entertainment not reading. As they get older they’ll be coached on finding and gathering information to form defensible opinions. The question though – will anyone else prepare them? I’m not seeing evidence from education. We are totally failing to prepare the next generation for the knowledge world.

    My evidence from relatives, friends and grads entering the workforce are ill-prepared. They can google, they have contacts but no knowledge communities, they use files but not the cloud. 95% learn about Evernote from me. Few use social media with an eye on professional networks.

    Both education and employers need to address this. The gap between unskilled, average, proficient and good is too biased towards unskilled. Glad I’m not a line voice.

  2. Steve Richards says:

    Steph has head great training in critical thinking, researching skills etc, so she’s fine. In general though I agree with your point Stu

  3. Stu Downes says:

    Steve, my biggest concern is the teachers I see. To the point that I think professional bodies should be grouping together to send their members into secondary schools/sixth form colleges. Giving everyone the background needed to grow. Even I after all these years am thinking of doing one of Harold Jarches 40 day PKM sessions.

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