What makes being a “digital native” truly different?

The other day I left a comment on Jess's blog, musing that there must be a qualitative difference between having know life before the World Wide Web, and being a so-called ”digital native”.

Jess asked me to elaborate. Problem is, we ”immigrants” really don't know how life is different for kids who grew up with the Net. I can only offer a few observations to suggest that life must be different. If you have thought of other evidence – or counter-evidence -, please share. I'd like to understand this better.

By the way, I really think that the metaphor of ”digital immigrants” and ”digital natives” is flawed. If we have to converse in territorial terms, perhaps ”digital colonists” would be more apt? 🙂

Anyhow, here's my two cents:

  • When I was a teenager, information generally was physically distributed. If you had a burning question which the people in your immediate presence couldn't answer, you would need to locate a physical source to find an answer. You would go to a library or contact some expert organization. With 24/7 Internet access, an answer from Google, the Wikipedia and your expert social network is only a few keystrokes away. So, my guess is that teenagers must have a different sense of ”where” information resides.
  • Reminds me of what Doc Searls calls the ”giant zero”, or how David Weinberger describes the Net in his book 'Small Pieces Loosely Joined – a unified theory of the web' as a ”spaceless place”, p. 40 etc. And that goes not only or information, but also for entities, i.e. people, groups and organizations. I would expect that members of the N-generation have a more natural sense for things not having a physical location. For people my age (41) this is probably more difficult to imagine.
  • Being always connected means living in two different worlds, a physical one and a virtual one, simultaneously. It will be fascinating to see if, how and to what extent these worlds merge in the perception of the N-generation. Already it seems that kids don't make the same distinction between being ”on line” and ”off line” as we do.
  • According to Gartner, 2009 will be the year when the first wave of ”digital natives” comes to the labor market, armed with social software tools, and the determination to do online whatever they please, even if that means bypassing the IT department.
  • David Weinberger mentioned in a video interview (approx. between 06:00 and 12:45 minutes) that youngsters have a different sense of privacy. For example, it is considered bad form for a hiring manager to check out a job applicant's Facebook info, much the same way that it is inappropriate to acknowledge the argument a couple are having on the street.
  • Part of the impact on education, for example, is that there is less and less sense in examining pupils' capacity to absorb information and reproduce facts from memory. Instead, the emphasis will need to shift towards teaching young people how to conduct research, how to filter, select, evaluate, assess, judge all those sources of information at their disposal. That's what a fair part of Dan Gillmor's essay on the 'Principles of a New Media Literacy' was about.

Yes, these are only sketchy bits. Please share your thoughts on what makes being a "digital native" truly different.

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