And so I was surprised to discover that Palfrey and Gasser’s definition of ‘digital natives’ describes me:
They were all born after 1980... They read blogs rather than newspapers. They often meet each other online before they meet in person. They probably don’t even know what a library card looks like, much less have one; and if they do, they’ve probably never used it. They get their music online – often for free, illegally – rather than buying it in record stores. They’re more likely to send an instant message (IM) than to pick up the telephone to arrange a date later in the afternoon... And they’re connected to one another by a common culture. Major aspects of their lives – social interactions, friendships, civic activities – are mediated by digital technologies.(Apart from the library card comment and [LEGAL DISCLAIMER] the illegal music comment.)
|A digital native. Probably with disgusting sticky fingers.|
There are also the different ways that technology has integrated itself into our lives. It’s common – particularly among newspaper opinion columnists – to distinguish between the ‘real world’ and the ‘online world’. I see no distinction: the ‘online me’ is me albeit with some of the restrictions of online communication.
Another quote from Born Digital:
...Digital Natives live much of their lives online, without distinguishing between the online and the offline. Instead of thinking of their digital identity and their real-space identity as separate things, they just have an identity (with representations in two, or three, or more different spaces)... For these young people, new digital technologies – computers, cell phones, Sidekicks – are primary mediators of human-to-human connections.I spend a lot of time online. The Web is my primary source of information about the world. Since my friends from school and university are scattered across the country, I communicate with people primarily using email and social media. I would rather chat with someone using Facebook or Chatzy than talk to them on the telephone. I have friends – even close friends – who I have never met in person. Voices for the Library is a group made up of people who primarily communicate with one another online and meet in person very rarely.
So I suppose I am a digital native. My life is integrated with and augmented by technology. Things 8, 9, and 13 for CPD23 are all about web-based tools and technologies that are used to organise oneself and make life easier. These kinds of tools – Google Calendar, Google Docs, wikis – and certain pieces of hardware – laptop, USB stick, Kindle, iPod – are integrated into my life in such a way as to make them crucial to my normal operation. Google Calendar augments my memory; my Kindle augments my capacity for communication: these pieces of technology are integrated with me and make me a more effective human being.
Transhumanism argues that the next step in human development will be merging with technology to make humans fitter, smarter, and better. To some degree, this is already happening with digital natives: as humans whose lives are so integrated with technology that they are recognisably distinct from generations before them, there is a strong case that this is the first generation of posthumans. Although I don’t agree with Ray Kurzweil’s quasi-religious belief in The Singularity, I do agree that the human body is imperfect and that augmenting humans using technology can be of great benefit: “Our version 1.0 biological bodies are likewise frail and subject to a myriad of failure modes, not to mention the cumbersome maintenance rituals they require. While human intelligence is sometimes capable of soaring in its creativity and expressiveness, much human thought is derivative, petty, and circumscribed.”
Some argue that digital natives suffer from their attachment to technology. In the wake of horrendous riots across England last week, the Government has discussed the negative influence of social media technology and its potential for organising riots and disorder. In his book, The Shallows, Nicholas Carr discusses the negative impact of the Internet on human neurology (in brief: dwindling ability to concentrate; a generation of ADHD sufferers). Rather than interpreting this change as a kid of decay, the authors of Born Digital see it as an adaptive change necessitated by a changing information environment. Digital natives are simply adapting to survive in an environment of ‘information overload’. For example: in a world where the information can be found with a couple of keystrokes, what non-trivial benefit is there to memorising the kings and queens of England? Einstein said: “[I do not] carry such information in my mind since it is readily available in books. ...The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think.”
We’re likely to see even more changes in the way that people, particularly young people, use technology. Rather than restricting the technology, we have to learn to adapt like digital natives have and will continue to do.
EDIT: A few hours after posting this, Deb Elzie tweeted about this research by the Open University which suggests that there are no 'digital natives' and that there is no clear break between the technology usage of different generations. In which case, anyone has the potential ability to use technology in the intuitive way that is the hallmark of the digital native: rather than being a matter of age, it's a matter of experience. So-called 'digital nativity' lies in shared characteristics and technological affinity rather than arbitrary age limits: there's no reason why people born before 1980 shouldn't be able to use technology as well as people born after. There is another interesting piece on digital natives here by Simeon Oriko.