Digital Natives...are we there yet?


Digital Native?...hmm, I don't think so.

Digital Native?...hmm, I don't think so.

As a denizen of 21st century humans, I am often involved in conversations that seem a bit out of time...or should I say "ahead of their time".  Over the past year, I have had a couple of "out-of-time" conversations involving an emerging phrase/term..."Digital Natives".  Ok, before I get on the soapbox, let me just say that I honestly don't know what the term actually means.  Digital Natives is one of those newly coined terms, the kind that show up in Wikipedia or the Urban Dictionary.  I can say though,  the context of use is always the same.  Usually,  I'm talking to someone and we're talking about some "computery" thing (smartphone, computer, tablet, etc.) and the person will indicate that although they have not fully embraced the "computery" thing, their kids do because the kids nowadays are "Digital Natives".  This new generation is born/native to a "digital world" and the rest of us are...um..."digital immigrants".  This is about the point when my eyes narrow to slits and my teeth are barred...and I say "WTH are you talking about?"  Hmm, ok, it's not that bad but admittedly the term stings a bit because I'm a "computery dude" (engineer, software developer/architect, blah blah) and I like to consider myself a "digital pioneer"...a pioneer!

In any case, ego aside, I try to take the high road and rationally discuss what it means or "should mean" for one to be a Digital Native.  I proceed to point out that our current 21st century society is nowhere near a digital society or at least the digital society I would imagine.  Sure,  some people, but not most, have computers, smart-phones and tablets and some people, but not most, read electronic books.  Ok, beyond that, what other digital stuff are people using? Not a lot really!  Generally speaking, I think when people use the "Digital Natives" term, they really mean "smartphone, tablets & computer natives" and even from that perspective, we aren't there yet.  Those devices are still not the native experience for the new generation. For example, although electronic books (e-books) are a prominent alternative, books on printed paper are still the dominant form of information exchange.  What about money/currency...are we digital yet? Nope, the Mint is still printing up and stamping out dollars and cents.  Admittedly, credit cards and the like are pushing us in the digital direction but they are inherently based on paper currency (dollars) as opposed to some abstract concept like 'credits'.  What about signage, billboards, menus, etc...this is barely the tip of the iceberg.  Nope...nada...crickets! Folks, we are not even close to a "Digital Natives" generation.

Admittedly though, the term has began to pique my interest.  It does begs the question - What defines whether or not a generation is "digital"?  Is the bar as low having the knowledge and use of smart devices?  Or is it really high - a society like the one depicted in StarTrek wherein almost everything is digital; books are literally antiques.   Clearly, I believe that the bar should be raised but just how high...I'd like to find out what other folks think.

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