Technological superheros they're not

You grew up digital so you must have a superior understanding of technology concepts and execution.



Over the last half-decade the term "digital native" has become popular in discourse around technological revolution and broadcast culture. Much of the claims about this supposedly savvy generation are, however, are generalizations at best. 

Assertions that so-called digital natives:

  • use technology more than digital immigrants;
  • are brilliant at social media;
  • are innately digital literate;
  • are having the most impact in this new connected world.


Steve Jobs was a digital immigrant and he seems to have done alright adapting (and to a large extent shaping) 21st century digital culture.  

Vinton Cerf is old enough to be our grandfather but Google thinks he has chops enough to be their executive Internet Evangelist, despite the fact that high tech in his early days was the television.

A report on Digital Natives based on a panel held at the London School of Economics and Political Science downplays the perceived advantages youth have on the Internet.  This from Charlie Beckett, founding Director at Polis

The fact is that young people experience the same opportunities and challenges as everyone else who uses digital technologies. The cultural and social barriers to conventional literacies appear to replicate themselves online. A young person who struggles to read a book will quite likely find online navigation difficult, too. There may be magical things that we can do online, but there is no miraculous power that changes intellectual frogs into digital princes. Those people growing up over the last decade or so may well be more familiar with a world of virtual and networked culture and communications. However, individual youths have not been endowed by some freakish evolutionary process with exceptional technological powers.

One absolute fact - digital natives are more digitally dependant than any other generation before them. However, that does not make them the most digital literate by default nor does this guarantee success in every online space.  

It does mean that they are more prevalent in the space, more apt to experiment, take risks and fail. And THIS, we can leverage.  How they consume, and more importantly, how we track, understand and use for good those consumption habits, can help us all significantly impact cultural development and social change.

The point?  We need to learn together.  We need to stop focusing on generational divides, and start having conversations about how this ever-evolving platform provides opportunities for learning, for mentoring (traditional and reverse models), and for change.