The fast development of technology has made possible the creation of various digital media tools and, with the advent of Web 2.0, the World Wide Web has reached a lot of people’s lives. In an article about this phenomenon, Prensky (2001) came up with names to classify this different groups of people: Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. The first relates to the younger generation born between the 1980’s and late 1990’s, while the latter represents the baby boomers and older generations who would have to adapt to these new technologies, after being born during a different time. While some authors believe that “For the first time in history, children are more comfortable, knowledgeable, and literate than their parents with an innovation central to society.” (Tapscott, 2008, p.2), others agree that the new generation lacks compromise and efficiency. The concept originated by Prensky is also a matter of discussion as some authors argue that a large sum of the world’s population does not actually have easy access to internet and gadgets, so the digital “divide” is present in our society and affects social equality. The seminar task associated with the subject – creating a digital diary – helps to identify and relate those topics, as well as showing a Digital Natives’ perception and day-to-day usage of technology.
The accelerated development of Information and Communications Technology has had a profound impact on the education system, both online and offline. In a South East European country such as Serbia, new technologies shape information, communication, and collaboration dynamics while contributing to a persistent digital divide regarding the skills necessary to obtain, process, evaluate, and communicate information.
The “natives” show more engagement on social topics, prize freedom and freedom of use and are faster and more innovative (Tapscott, 2008) than their predecessors. Being born in the middle of the digital media era meant that those people did not know any different, so it was more of a natural process and no adaptation was required. Without a steep learning curve, the younger generation finds information quicker, are able to communicate with people around the world more effectively and master all the new features that exist – and that are still being created – on the Web. Natives value customisation, making products fit their personality and interests and ultimately making everything more personal (ibid., 2008), while also priding themselves in sharing their creations and collaborating with other people’s. Their awareness is also highly praised, as younger people are able to easily look for the veracity of a topic and avoid things like “fake news”, which are usually associated and shared by Digital Immigrants.
Language is one of the factors that impress the most – according to Crystal (2002, in Aroles, 2016), linguistic changes can be noted as technologies are developed and new ways of interacting created. Young people show more interest in learning English as their second language when browsing the Web rather than at school, and the use of English slangs, memes and songs is not exclusive to English speaking countries. Online games are also a good example of how people from different places around the world are able to communicate to each other without major problems (Aroles, 2016).
All those positive features represent that the new generation is more connected, better informed and possesses a higher set of skills that are necessary for day-to-day and professional environments – with some authors going as far as saying that Natives’ brains are “physically different as a result of the digital input they received growing up” (Prensky, 2001).
That does not mean, however, that there is no criticism pointed towards them, especially coming from Digital Immigrants. Some authors in the field classify the digital generation as more ignorant than the previous one (Bauerlein, 2008 in Tapscott, 2008) and go as far as saying that digital media use causes harm to the society we live in. According to them, this is the era of downloading illegal content, committing cyberbullying and of professionals that lack ethics and compromise in the work environment. While those opinions come from authors with experience in the area, I believe that this is more of a case of the older generation being scared of something they do not fully understand. There are indeed factors that are concerning, however, such as the lack of care from Digital Natives in regard to privacy, as Tapscott (2008) puts. As we currently live in a world where creating, sharing and collaborating is essential, especially for those who work with the public, privacy is taken less seriously by a large part of the younger generation. Personal information has turned into a commodity used to raise people’s visibility online (Papathanassopoulos, 2015) and as positive as it might seem, there might be major downsides regarding security and criminality that come with the rise of hacker groups and the Deep Web. As Papathanassopoulous (2015, p.1) puts:
The enormous growth of the social Web has thus contributed to the development of new forms of mediated visibility, the rise of digital intimacy, and in effect, the empowerment of narcissistic indulgence.
Often referred to as “self-centred and obsessed with short-term gratification” (Salmon, 1996, in Tapscott, 2008), the young generation does prove to fit in that argument. Natives recur to digital media for additional learning, for subjects that are not taught at schools and universities. The availability of websites and courses opens various possibilities for them to master a new language or learn more about programming and, in order to keep “students” attention, those websites offer rewards after every few chapters. Some go as far as giving the student an option to share their achievement with friends and family through social networking profiles.
The older generation, entitled Digital Immigrants, are usually the biggest critics of the natives. As they were presented to those new technologies while adults, most of them are slow learners. The learning curve is steeper in that case because, as Prensky (2001) notes, learning software is similar to learning a new language – it gets gradually harder as you grow older. This results in an “accent”, which according to Prensky (ibid.), represents actions that were clearly executed by Immigrants because of their reduced familiarity with digital media products, such as calling someone to their office to show a webpage instead of just sending the URL or printing an e-mail.
There is a lot of scepticism shown by this generation in regard to new technologies, and this is made clear when overviewing the current situation of the educational system. While teachers complain about the attention span of younger students, Prensky (2001, p. 4) believes that the short spans are tied to the old ways of learning, and pupils are currently looking for interactivity and participation. Although new methods are being implemented by professors and lecturers, most students still find themselves bored as education in many places is still “lagging at least 100 years behind” (Taspcott, 2008, p. 122). Most professionals fail to make use of new media technologies that could turn schools and universities into more interesting environments, making students more engaged with the subjects being taught. Prensky (2008, p. 4) suggests a division between content that has always been taught at schools such as writing, reading and logical thinking, and “future” content, which represents subjects of interest to the younger generation and that will be useful in their future as professionals. Being able to adapt and create new ways of teaching the same subjects is what puts Immigrants a bit closer to Natives and diminishes their “accent”.
When talking about Digital Natives and Immigrants, mentioning digital divide is inevitable. Some countries, like the United States, have diminished this divide to a point where almost all of the young population has a computer or smartphone with access to online services (Pew Research Center, 2015), proving that the issue was a lot bigger during the 1990s than it is now. Also, research shows that approximately 3.773 billion people have access to the internet (Wearesocial, 2017) and the number is likely to double in the next few years. However, the social inequality is still present and shows that half of the population does not fit into the terms created by Prensky. These results come from ethnographic and demographic research and show that people from underdeveloped countries and with less income are less likely to own a digital device. Some authors (Koutropoulos, 2011) argue that Natives can also be divided into two groups: the ones with more and with less technological skills. Studies show that not all young people with access to digital media have mastered the necessary skills to make the best use out of it, but instead, have got a basic skill set which does not make them Digital Natives, even though they were born during the creation and development of those gadgets and software (Brown and Czerniewicz, 2010). According to recent reports (Rasmussen College, 2015), about 59% of young Americans find the internet overwhelming, while 71% is worried about computer viruses and 35% is scared of being online, showing that although there is plenty of access available, a considerable sum of teenagers and young adults are still illiterate when it comes to online services and technology.
The task proposed during for the seminar was a digital diary, where students would write about all the instances where they used digital media – be it social networks, websites, maps or gaming – during a certain day. As all the students enrolled in the module were born in the late 1990s, it is clear that all diaries would be of Digital Natives and, with the exception of one or two peers, the results were fairly similar. I chose a normal week day and, after I woke up, I realised it would be a long diary. The first thing I did in the morning was to check social media to see if there were any updates or interactions and have a look at news websites for any major topics. After having a shower, I had breakfast while checking the weather and replying to texts on my phone. Right after that, off I went to my first lecture of the day, not without taking my iPad for note taking and reading the slides. I checked Facebook and Twitter in between my lectures and went to an editing room to do some of the coursework before heading back to the lecture theatre. After leaving University, I opened Maps as I did not know where exactly I was heading to and I would not be able to find my destination without a bit of help from my phone. I did randomly check my phone while I was away from home and, after coming back, I sat down and opened Behance and Pinterest for a bit of inspiration, as I occasionally do some freelance work and learning with great professionals is a good way of getting better at my job.
After an hour or so of browsing that, I opened YouTube and watched a couple of videos that interested me, while having a look at what I had in my fridge so I could cook dinner. While cooking, I had my phone with me so I could reply to some texts and listen to music. As there was no one in the kitchen, I headed back to my room with my dinner and spent about 10 minutes searching for a show on Netflix – by the time I had decided on what to watch, my food was already cold. After doing the dishes, I called my parents on FaceTime as it had been a while since we last talked. As they live in a different country, I rely solely on digital media to chat with them. While on call, I managed to focus both on talking and also checking social media and replying to e-mails. After saying goodbye to my parents, I decided to watch a few more YouTube videos before laying down to get some sleep. I still spent about an hour or so talking to my girlfriend and doing different things on my phone while in bed, before setting my alarm for the next day and closing my eyes.
The first thing noticed while creating this diary was that the very first and last thing I do during a normal day involves using my phone. As of 2012, approximately 52% of Americans interacted with smartphones right after waking up and right before going to sleep (Ahn and Jung, 2015). Reports also show that the younger generation sees the use of it as convenient because of its’ portability and classify smartphones as a vital part of their lives, enabling fast communication and facilitating work and studying. The presence of multi-tasking during lectures and while talking to other people is also very noticeable in the digital diary report and, while this might be seen as positive – showing how Digital Natives are quick and effective (Tapscott, 2008) – it also reveals lack of care about real interactions with real people. Although being able to focus on more than one task at a time, Natives might forget what their main purpose is – in that specific case, talking to friends and family. This negative effect is highly mentioned by older generations to diminish Generation X and point out about the growing “digital dementia”. With constant use and dependence on the portable gadgets, Digital Natives are being less capable of thinking for themselves and interact without consulting the internet first. In practice, this can be seen in the seminar task when a smartphone app had to be used so I could locate myself and know where to head to. Before the existence of this technology, people would still be able to find places by asking, which is far more social and less dependent.
This dependence on smartphones is worth noting as the gadget was present on everyone’s diaries during the seminar. While common sense says that the younger generation is addicted to these gadgets and that it is doing more harm than good, smartphones are actually said to be diminishing gender barriers and accelerating the democratic process (Doron and Jeffrey, 2013, in Ahn and Jung, 2015). Classifying smartphones as part of the digital divide is understandable but the inequality, in this case, is diminishing quickly, especially when considering that about 2.56 billion people had access to it in 2017 (Wearesocial, 2017) and the number of users should increase to 6.2 billion in 2019 (Ericsson Mobility Report, 2017). According to those reports, it is only a matter of time until most of the world’s population possesses a mobile phone with internet connectivity.
The seminar task also enabled a deeper understanding on how Digital Natives use technology without paying much attention to security and privacy, which brings us back to Tapscott (2008). After carefully looking at Facebook and other social media profiles, it is clear that the amount of information available for everyone to see surpasses the acceptable. Digital Immigrants did not have a way of sharing this much information before social media was created, which is why they are much more sceptical in regard to online privacy – which is a good thing to be sceptical about. This relates to two other topics discussed in the module, privacy and surveillance, and draws attention to the fact that there might be badly intentioned people looking at anyone’s information, which is why there has to be a better understanding of those concepts by the Digital Natives.
To conclude, it is clear that there are people who both agree and disagree with the concept of Digital Natives and Immigrants, as social inequality is still present in our society and being born during the development of new technologies does not equal in instant familiarity with them. When considering Prensky’s concepts to be accurate, there is a clear division between Natives and Immigrants and, most of the general criticism pointed towards the first is the result of a “fear of the unknown” shown by older people who have less practice with digital media technology. This does not mean, however, that all criticism is untrue. Although Natives are fast, innovative and engaging, issues like online privacy, cyberbullying and digital dementia come to the discussion and prove that the “digital generation” also has its’ negatives. Education is also fairly discussed when talking about Natives and Immigrants, as the old methods of teaching are still being used, although slowly being adapted, keeping students’ attention away from classes and lectures and closer to the computers and smartphones screens.