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Who are these digital natives anyways?


This blog is already 7 posts and exactly 7 days old, and we haven't really set the ground yet. My bad! (another of the DN manifestation - usage of global lingo. check out urbandictionary)
Before going any further lets get to know who we are talking about when we refer 'digital natives' (DN). Is this a matter of age, as some sources define it by the generation born after 1985? Damn! According to this definition, i missed the bus by a year. Would Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons not be Digital Natives?
Also, this would be widely variable across geographies, class etc depending upon the nature of digital ecosystem evolution and penetration.
So, who are these digital natives? Like a native of a city/state, digital native shares the language, the culture, the habits/mores to a certain degree with fellow technology users. They have distinctive ways of working, learning and socializing. As Marc Prensky would describe it - they share 'the accent' - the behavioral nuances in the way things are done, communicated. And this accent is born of the digital ecosystem (we will discuss the digital ecosystem in a little more detail in another post. ) that pervades a usual digital native.

So a DIY test to know if you are a digital native (as against digital immigrant) would include questions such as :
1. Do you multitask or do u prefer doing things one at a time?
2. Do you need to be 'connected' through cell phone, internet etc all the time?
3. Would you read something online or would you rather take a print out of the text and then read?
4. Is google your first port of call for any query?
5. Do you trust comments in social networks/blogs more than a person commenting them 'in person'?
6. Is grammar the greatest pleasure of life? :P

If you rather multitask, even when you have the luxury of time, you have the symptoms of being a Digital native. Is your cell phone and internet connection like oxygen to you? Can you 'survive' without being connected for a few days? would you trade a meal with some talktime? hmm.. you seem to be a serious contender for being a digital native. If you assume high level of functionality to be easily available in various platforms, you know who you are.
To get a digital world passport, the digital ecosystem should be your self's extensions, and its use, second nature to you. You should have a clear understanding of the assumptions underlying the interactions in this ecology, the chores necessitated out of it, etc.

This is how I see a digital native. This way its not a function of geography or age. Its purely a behavioral identity. Though the characteristic behavior is a function of class, affluence since it necessitates access to technology. So, DNs form a larger group by percentage in developed countries than in developing countries. Also, the evolution of DNs in different countries started at different times and i believe will have different trajectories. So while the average age of video gamer in UK has grown from 21 in 1998 to 27 in 2006#, in India, the average gamer would be younger (we need data here). Also, about different trajectories of DN is subject to the different way in which technology is introduced and rolled out. For eg. sms isn't as widely used in US as it is in India. This must have implication in the way people interact with each other.

The digital immigrant that we contrast to digital native are characterized by their 'immigrant behavior' in the technological ecosystem. They doubt digital manifestation that DNs take for granted. For eg. They would call up the recipient to check if the person has received the email.
They aren't confident of usage of the digital tools. The doubt 'should i click OK?', is indicator of being a digital immigrant. DIs often face difficulty in multitasking and prefer the linear logic.
Like any immigrant, the DI always retain some 'accent' even though they might have come to terms with the digital world and comfortably put to use the digital devices. This accent is apparent from behavioral nuances such as a penchant for order and linearity of argument in document, preference to read printed word as against digital words on screen etc.

The interactions between Digital Immigrant and Digital Native would lead interesting insights and I would explore it in another post.

# BBC, “Gamers in the UK,” December 2005.

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