I’m twenty-two and I don’t consider myself a digital native. This is a relatively new phenomenon, which in our fast-paced digital world means it’s been around for quite a few years. The main reason why I don’t call myself a digital native is because I can remember and grew up in (to an extent) a world before the domination of social media sites and digital technology.

Marc Prensky, an American writer invented the terms ‘digital native’ and ‘digital immigrant’ and for his definition it is used mainly for educational purposes. But elaborating further into the environment of today’s digital spaces I think it can be helpful to understand the circumstances that divide generations when it comes to using technology differently.


Prensky says, “Today’s students – K through college – represent the first generations to grow up with this new [digital] technology. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age.What should we call these “new” students of today? The most useful designation I have found for them is Digital Natives. Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet. So what does that make the rest of us? Those of us who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the new technology are, and always will be compared to them, Digital Immigrants.”

I remember what life was like before iPhones, when apps didn’t exist and the only game I could play was Brick on my tiny iPod Nano (1G) for $249. It was pure bliss. Millennials are growing up swimming in a pool of digital distraction, floating in and out of new stimuli before entertain themselves with something new that will keep them from sinking into boredom. They must be entertained and the speed at which they move onto the next things is dizzying. So much so that the rest of us sometimes lose our balance trying to catch up.

When it comes to teaching – Prensky again identifies that this can create problems between what is being taught, how it is being taught and who is teaching it.

“Today’s teachers have to learn to communicate in the language and style of their students. This doesn’t mean changing the meaning of what is important, or of good thinking skills. But it does mean going faster, less step-by step, more in parallel, with more random access, among other things.”

There are stark differences between what this generation needs to learn, or can learn and what the previous generations need to become more aware of. For example,my friend, who is also 22 has been able to program computers using an increasing amount of programming languages since he was 15. Ten years ago that would seem quite remarkable to be able to do something required at university level or above, but now – it seems it is compulsory to have these skills in the new media landscape. There are now coding and programming courses and aides that have been made available for primary-aged children and teachers.

An interesting comment I have come across in this conversation in journalism is from Jeff DeGraff of the Huffington Post,

“The irony is that, eventually, we will come full circle: The children of digital natives will act like digital immigrants. This is just how things work: We see the world differently from the people who came before us. Generations are simply oppositional in nature. But they don’t have to be at odds with each other.”

When I was a child, I had a closely monitored screen-time for long car journeys and holidays – seems quite the routine and almost impossible to think about but I’m grateful for it. I had a multitude of devices and gaming consoles but they always meant that I still physically interacted with others in a fun environment. My iPod only let me play music, but now iPhones possess infinite gaming opportunities on a single screen. Technology has evolved into an individual handheld device landscape that makes communication with others physically much harder.

Now, my four-year-old cousin focuses her attention on Subway Surfers and Temple Run instead of drawing with crayons and spending hours playing with Lego like I did. She has known how to take selfies since she was two, and soon enough she will learn about Snapchat filters, hashtags and will grow up in a world where Instagram Stories are her connection point. The implications to this are huge and need to be considered.

How then do we educate and teach against the dangers of cyber bullying and the adult world of wider communication that they are being thrown into at such tender ages? Going back to the pool metaphor; these kids need learn to swim in the deep end and dive before they can dog paddle. Facebook and most other social media websites do have age restrictions (that aren’t always adhered to). But specially designed kid social media sites such as musical.ly, Snapkidz, and Club Penguin provide them with the preliminary tools of communication for when they reach the appropriate age restriction.

Teachers and educators should heed the words of Marc Prensky and adapt the content they teach to embrace the technology and social media that the children know and use every day. We have a responsibility to these digital natives that cannot be ignored.

Fun fact to remember; there once was a time when the word apple simply meant a piece of fruit.

Photo credit: unsplash-logoMarkus Spiske