10 December 2018
With the implementation of computers, social media, even cell phones, and their constant evolution in the world today, everyone of all ages is always trying to keep up and adapt to these changes. Regardless of age or what technology they grew up with, people still must learn how to be digitally literate. Danah Boyd argues this point further, by challenging the stereotypes of “digital natives,” the term for young millennials born into an age of technology, and “digital immigrants,” the term for older generations that have had to adapt to technology. She disagrees with the idea that digital natives are automatically well-equipped and tech-savvy, because many millennials and young people must in fact learn the ropes to technology. She also challenges the idea that digital immigrants are so out of touch with technology that they can never be natives and they will always be one step behind the natives because they didn’t grow up using technology. Although this may be true for some, many adults and older people are actually better adapted to technology than younger people. This conversation is very popular among many authors, and this essay will agree with and extend Boyd’s claims by drawing on outside sources that discuss this same topic.
Danah Boyd makes many great and original claims in her chapter, “Are today’s youth digital natives?” One in particular stood out to me, which is her argument that the distinctions between generations of digital literacy should not matter or even be a discussion. In the first paragraph of this chapter she calls out the uselessness of the rhetoric of “digital natives,” and says this term is actually “often a distraction to understanding the challenges that youth face in a networked world” (Boyd 176). She is arguing that this term does not do anything to actually define youth or their technical abilities, but actually serves as a distraction to the fact that there are many young people that are not well equipped with technology. She continues, “being exposed to information or imagery through the internet and engaging with social media do not make someone a savvy interpreter of the meaning behind these artifacts” (Boyd 177). There is an important difference between simply using the internet and actually understanding the makings and workings of it. Just because these newer generations are growing up around technology, it does not automatically determine their level of expertise with the internet or different mediums.
Just as one should not assume that the youth are automatically tech-savvy, she states “it is also naive to assume that so-called digital immigrants have nothing to offer” (Boyd 177). Boyd also makes an important point that there is no magical relation between skills and age, meaning one’s digital literacy does not depend on one’s age, but it depends on their willingness and means to learn. Just as digital natives must learn and adapt to new technologies, digital immigrants must do the same if they wish to be digitally literate in this fast-moving world. To sum up all her points, she closes with the statement, “Becoming literate in a networked age requires hard work, regardless of age” (Boyd 177). This sentence embodies this claim perfectly, because she combats both the ideas of “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” being unimportant and unnecessary while also adding that it doesn’t come easy to anyone, everyone must work to become digitally literate.
Many other authors also have opinions on the conversation of digital immigrants and digital natives, some of which disagree with Boyd. Nigel Coutts challenges Boyd’s argument that these terms given to different generations might actually be worthy of some conversation and debate. He mentions Marc Prensky, and how many people have bashed his ideas, but claims that “it is worth re-visiting and seeing how the idea might evolve to better serve our needs and understandings of how people born after the internet, learn with and think about, technology” (Coutts). First, he discusses how digital natives, as described by Prensky, seem to come from a world of fast-paced gaming and MTV. He also says that, “students who are happy to use technology to message their friends but fail to see the utility, that same technology can bring to their learning” are becoming a big group that needs to be reminded they have the world in their pockets (Coutts). This is very true in today’s world, young people seem tech-savvy because they can navigate Google and their social networks, but this could be expanded so much more because there is so much more to technology. Another interesting point is that digital natives should be able to combine their digital literacy with past experiences to collaborate in exciting ways, but they don’t because they are so young and don’t have much experience. He makes an important and new point that technology does not always mean in a classroom or work setting, but many “digital natives” are in fact digitally intelligent on things like video games. He claims that digital natives “rely on instant gratification from game play but lack the required grit and resilience to move forward when this is lacking,” and that they instead should be “shown how to learn and how to use their digital tools for learning” (Coutts). This challenges Boyd’s claims by arguing that digital natives may not be universally tech-savvy in terms of work, but most of them do know a thing or two about video games, and this knowledge should be transformed into real digital literacy. If they used this knowledge in a work setting, they would be much more useful and be respected by older people.
Although people tend to think that younger people, or digital natives, are naturally more in-touch with technology because of when they were born, Coutts agrees with Boyd on the fact that this is not always the case. He writes, “The reality is that it is not one’s age which determines one’s level of engagement with technology but one’s disposition towards it” (Coutts). Many older generations are actually quite up to date when it comes to technology, because they want to be or because their work forces them to be. Other people may choose not to get on the bandwagon of using the internet for everything, but that is their choice. This does not mean that digital immigrants are unable to adapt or learn, however. Coutts even admits that, “some of the most successful integrators of technology I have encountered are (in my politest voice) ‘older members’ of the profession” (Coutts). This further extends Boyd’s argument that their generation does not determine level of knowledge on technology. Although he seems to stand behind the idea of digital natives, Coutts is giving them the chance to prove him wrong. He believes that teenagers only care about video games and texting their friends, but doesn’t believe that this can never change. He wants them to be aware of the technology and information they are missing out on, and become digitally literate, just like his digital immigrant friends. Nigel Coutts and Danah Boyd both claim that digital natives can be out of touch with technology, and both digital immigrants and digital natives can actually adapt and learn about technology if they wish to and put effort in.
Another article, written by Ofer Zur and Azzia Walker, agrees with Boyd’s argument about how the terms digital natives and digital immigrants should not be used to determine different generations and their relationships with technology. They further her claims that digital natives can be out of touch with technology, while digital immigrants can actually be in touch. Although they agree with Boyd’s claims, they also extend her ideas by adding different subcategories of digital immigrants and digital natives. The three subcategories of digital immigrants are “avoiders, reluctant adopters, and enthusiastic adopters” (Zur). Going back to Coutts’ article, these subcategories are based upon one’s disposition towards technology. If they want to use technology, they will enthusiastically adopt it, while people who don’t want to use technology will instead avoid it. It is interesting that this article goes more into detail about Boyd’s ideas, and further extends these terms and how they can apply to different people underneath these terms. Although Boyd claims that these terms aren’t necessary or even applicable, this article added to this and made subcategories to tend to every person in these groups. Even though people assume digital immigrants are so out of touch with technology that they most likely avoid the use of it, it is interesting that some older people do actually learn and use technology. Similarly, there are older people that are enthusiastic to use and learn technology, and simply people that reluctantly give in, whether it be because of work, school, or boredom. No matter the age, technology can be accessible to everyone, depending on one’s disposition and will power to use it.
This article also talks about how digital natives have three subcategories, which are “avoiders, minimalists, and enthusiastic participants” (Zur). Although young people tend to love and thrive on technology (the enthusiastic participants), there are people who are more hesitant and either choose to use it a minimal amount, or not at all. It is interesting that there are young people out there that don’t live on their computers or phones, but choose to not indulge in it at all. Contrary to what most people think, there are young people that have grown up with technology that actually don’t care to use it at all, or even just as minimal as possible. For most, it is almost impossible to avoid while being in schools with smart boards, iPads, and online homework, but many people surprisingly choose to stray from this and stick to the use of a notebook and pencil. Although this article goes more into depth on the kind of digital immigrants and digital natives there are, it still agrees with Boyd’s argument that there are very different kinds of people in each of these terms. No matter what generation they were born in, there are still natives that wish to avoid technology, and there are immigrants that choose to adopt it. This article adds new, interesting, and pressing points that extend Boyd’s arguments, as well as build upon them.
I strongly agree with these positions, because I have experienced these different claims in real life. Before I read these, it was easy to assume, as for probably everyone, that these terms of digital natives and digital immigrants were accurate, simply because of one’s age and generation. From my experience with technology, it is easy to assume that younger people are naturally more equipped with it because they were born into it. Similarly, older people naturally seem more out of touch because they weren’t born into a generation with technology, but they instead are forced to adapt and learn. After reading these sources, I have a better understanding of the terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants,” and their uselessness in actually determining one’s digital literacy. I have met many young people that know how to work social media and video games, but really do not know anything about the internet or how it works. On the other hand, I also know many young people that are fascinated by the inner workings of technology and have learned how to code and truly understand technology. Similarly, I have met many older people that have willingly adapted to using technology in everyday life, whether it is for work or for fun. Then there are people like my parents who use Facebook, and that is the end to their digital literacy skills. Although many older people are not very tech-savvy, I believe this has more to do with their curiosity and desire to know rather than their inability to adapt or understand. After reading these sources and getting a grasp for what being digitally literate truly means, I understand that obtaining that requires hard work, regardless of age.
Boyd, Danah. It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. Yale University Press, 2015.
Coutts, Nigel. “Revisiting Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” The Learner’s Way, 18 Oct. 2015, thelearnersway.net/ideas/2015/10/18/revisiting-digital-natives-digital-immigrants.
Zur, Ofer, and Azzia Walker. “On Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives: How the Digital Divide Affects Families, Educational Institutions, and the Workplace.” Record Keeping Guidelines in Private Psychotherapy and Counseling Practice, by Ofer Zur, Ph.D., Offered by the Zur Institute for Psychologists, MFTs, SWs, Nurses and Counselors, www.zurinstitute.com/digital_divide.html.