Blog Post

Are Digital Natives Really Born With It?

In "This Is Your Brain on the Internet," we had a hilarious discussion a few weeks ago (yes, I'm behind in my blogging on ISIS 120) when my students were moving from the cognition part of the course to the digital part of the course and discovered, for the first time, a whole literature that brands them "digital natives."  One of my students wittily protested that here, on the first day of class, when they filled out an inventory of skills that they could contribute to our peer-taught classroom, she had, with some pride, mentioned all the various computational, social networking, and social media skills that, she thought, she'd worked hard to perfect. 


Silly gal!  Once she started reading the literature on digital natives, she learned she hadn't worked at this at all.  It came "naturally" to her as someone born after 1989.  It was practically a genetic inheritance, for goodness sake.  As a digital native, she just knew html and various other skills by some kind of generational osmosis.


My witty student also said that she wasn't even sure she wanted to be a "digital native."  She'd worked hard to gain a passport into the digital nation and felt she'd earned her visa and, like many an immigrant (she happens not to have been born in the U.S.), she has a great deal of pride in her accomplishment, her rites of passage, and her biculturalism and bilingualism.


Another student was shocked to find out that his generation had a name (millenials, digital natives) and that it was the subject of some interest and attention by others.  "You mean people get grants to study us?" he asked incredulously.   Of course we turned this whole notion of the digital native into a subject for conversation . . . and some levity.


It's Spring break now.  When the class resumes, we have another field trip ahead---this one to the Canine Cognition Center at Duke.   Because dogs track affect in a way similar to the way humans do, we want to think about packs and bonding and will and communication using dogs, rather than some of the more miscreant primates, as guides to our thinking.   


Amazingly, the digital natives (I happen to dislike that term, if you have not guessed: it had utility when it was first coined but now it obfuscates a range of differences) in my class seem to be inquisitive, engaged, and critical in their thinking-----not at all the unthinking technophiliacs that, in the literature, they are often assumed to be.  In an inventory of their email and text quotas, they lamented information overload.  Several insisted they are not innately good multitaskers all the times at all things.  And several said they looked forward to a Spring Break unplugged and off the grid.  May their very un-nativist desires come true.  Happy Spring Break everyone!




1 comment

Here is a really brilliant retort to the "digital native" cliches.  Make sure to watch through to the end.  There's a surprise that makes the case very powerfully----and, finally, with some respect to contemporary youth. 



And here's the url for the op ed piece version that the Herald Sun reprinted of this article. 

Op-ed: The natives are incredulous (Herald-Sun)
Professor Cathy Davidson says “digital natives” was a useful term when it was first coined but now “obfuscates a range of differences.”