Digital Natives Have Nothing on Gen X

Digital Natives are better at multitasking than older generations? Please.  My generation (Gen X) practically perfected multi-tasking.  Let’s take a look back to the 80s for a second:

  • Our multitasking was in the form of listening to a Walkman while sitting in front of the TV and doing homework – none of which were made for multitasking. So you can do_______ and ______ and _________ with a computer and iPhone and all that. Yawn. Computers and iPhones and all that are practically designed for multi-tasking. Next I guess you want a cookie for learning to drive a car on a road.
  • Social networking happened online back then too – it was just over a telephone party line instead of an Internet line.
  • We always had to have a phone with us back then, too – but for us it meant a pocket full of quarters to hit every available pay phone there was. Which was hard to do in public because of the crowds of teenagers standing around them.
  • Texting happened all the time in the 80s. Back then, it was done with a piece of paper (we probably went through a tree a day sending short pointless messages back and forth).
  • In fact, we pretty much did everything you can now do on a cell phone just using a pencil and piece of paper.
  • Twitter? Please. We could get short updates about life to an entire school in the span of two class periods just using paper and no electricity. And that still worked even if your cell battery went dead.
  • Writing on FaceBook walls? Too temporary for us. We had this thing called a bathroom wall. Much more interesting and permanent. Well, at least until the school budget allowed for a new can of paint.

Still think I am wrong? Still convinced that digital natives are totally different than older generations? Then here you go: a recent report from Forrester has been tearing down a few stereotypes about the so-called “digital natives.” Turns out, they aren’t necessarily as different from past generations as some would make them seem:

The results, published this month, portray a generation that, in some ways, is more traditional than some media executives might fear. And it seems that Morgan Stanley’s intern, Matthew Robson, is out of sync with the mainstream of European teenagers in a few of his media preferences.

Who is Matthew Robson? Well, he is 15-year old intern for Morgan Stanley that created a stir recently by publishing a report that some said proved the stereotypes about digital natives are true.  Like, for example, digital natives watch less traditional television because they are watching online video sites like YouTube.  Not true, according to actual research: they still spend more time watching television than they spend online.  Wow – what a novel concept. Research people’s statements, rather than take them as Gospel truth.

And this statement is really going to rock your boat if you blindly listen to the Marc Prensky‘s of the world:

Instead, wrote Nick Thomas, an analyst at Forrester, “real-world social interaction with friends remains important for online teens.”

Of course, none of this is any surprise to those of us that know any real teenagers.

You can read the New York Times summary of this story here.

I’ve told this story before, but this report reminds me of the time I went up to actual teenager and told them that I heard that “email is for old people.”  That person’s response? “What idiot said that? I hate it when people my age just say stupid things to get attention, and then old people run with it like it is the truth or something.”

It is about time that someone did some actual research.

The Digital Native Myth

I love getting together with people that think like I do. So that is probably why I like the annual TxDLA conference. I just got back with a load of new information to process. I was also thrilled to see that many people are getting tired of some of my least favorite Ed Tech buzzwords: “digital native” and “digital immigrant.”

It seems like whenever I bring up the term digital native or digital immigrant, I get at least a few (if not more) stories from teachers that can’t seem to find many of these “digital natives” out there. Those of us that are ready to let the students loose in the digital world that they are supposedly native to are getting blank stares from said students. I polled a 9th grade class last year and found that most of them had no idea what a blog was. Really – no clue. Do you know why? They don’t own a computer at home. Over 80% of them didn’t. There is this thing called the digital divide that is very real and very ignored.

Chris Duke sent me a link to an excellent blog post he wrote called “Millenials” are NOT different learners!! I think he makes an excellent point:

“Millenials have the opportunity to learn with grander and newer technologies than the those available to their teachers when their teachers were in secondary or undergraduate education.”

So, in other words, learning is the same – its just that society has changed and given our natural desire to learn new directions to grow that were not available just a decade ago. We’re tapping in to stuff that we always wanted, but just didn’t have the technology to do.

Just because someone was born a certain year does not mean they will have access to a computer and therefore become a native. I know that there are those that grow up with a computer at home and they technically are a digital native. But there is also this implication that they are automatically more tech-savy than any given digital immigrant on any given day. This is just not true. Think about all of the people that you know who are true early adopters. I am thinking of some now… and no natives are coming to mind. I am usually the one convincing my 20 year old sister-in-law that she needs to sign up for a new website. Not the other way around.

I do recognize that there are differences with every generation. Always has been, always will be. We need to know what these differences are. But won’t focusing so much unnecessary attention on the differences just serve to drive a larger wedge between “us” and “them”? There are also huge similarities. We should stop acting like younger generations are an entirely different species than us. Recognize the differences, but learn to focus on the positive stuff that is there.

I originally posted this on the TxDLA 2008 blog and edited it to repost here. On my original post, Rick Tanski left a comment that had some great links on this subject:

Here are also some past EduGeek Journal posts on this issue:

Also, if you are interested, here is the link to the original Digital Native Myth post for context.

The World is Not Flat – It is a Plateau

Yes, I am referring to The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman… and I must admit that I have not (yet) read it. I have been to a large number of conferences and blogs that discuss this book – some praising it, and some disagreeing with it. I think the book sounds interesting, and I will read it soon and probably agree with many of the ideas covered in it. But, I have to say that I do tend to fall on the side that disagrees with the basic thought that globalization has leveled the playing field for all countries.

Friedman apparently went to India and had a revelation that globalization had changed core economic concepts there. The funny thing is, I have also traveled to India. My experience there tended to reveal to me how wide the gap is between countries that have wide-spread access to electricity, technology, and the Internet – and those that do not. Most people in India (a large percentage, actually) do not have access to all of three of these.

My theory is that the world is not flat – but it does have one large plateau surrounded by badlands. When I was in school, they taught us that plateaus are mountains with flat tops. On a family trip I discovered that this example was kind of an over simplification. I was following our trip on a map and noticed it said we were on a plateau at that moment. I looked out of the car and thought “we’re not on some flat mountain – we are just in the middle of a flat desert!” The thing about plateaus is that they are relatively flat – but while you are on them, you can usually only see the plateau itself for as far as the eye can see. Until you come up on the edge and see how high up you are.

Those that see the world as flat are on the plateau – all they can see is the flatness. So, they think the world is flat because they haven’t explored around enough to see otherwise. Leave the plateau and you will find a virtual badlands of rough terrain, pot holes, difficult terrain, and dead ends.

If we try to teach people in the badlands how to work in a flat world, they will fail. Because it is not flat for them. We could try to teach them how to climb up to the plateau, but what if they are not able to? What if they don’t want to? Why should we force them to do things our way? The badlands are a beautiful area of rugged scenery that don’t necessarily need to be abandoned. They really aren’t “bad” at all – that just happens to be the name for them.

Those of us in the technology world need to think how we can adjust our strategies to include those that are not constantly connected to a high speed internet connection through multiple devices 24 hours a day… because the edge of the plateau is not just dividing us from people on the other side of the world. It is separating us from people just down the road from us.

Has the Academic World Forgotten the Digital Divide?

Some have proclaimed that it doesn’t exist, but I am sorry – the digital divide is alive and well. I know someone who teaches at the second largest high school in the nation. She is attempting to integrate technology into her classes. She also has a hard time finding all of these so-called “digital natives.”

I just got out of the keynote speech for today at the 2007 IOL conference. The speaker brought in several college students to demonstrate to us how today’s generation is different from previous generations. I loved hearing what they had to say – they did a great job. I was disappointed in the fact that the panel was not very ethnically or economically diverse. I’m sure they aren’t all rich – but they all mentioned owning things that most of the students I mentioned above will never own. I’ve surveyed those students on technology, and I have found that all of their responses were radically different than ANY fact presented to us at this session. And these students are predominately African-American.

Of course, if you travel across the digital divide in Dallas, you will see that every student is just like the ones that we saw on this panel. And – I want to make sure I point this out – I liked the panel. I thought the did a good job of representing their side of the digital divide. What I am concerned about is that I haven’t even heard the digital divide mentioned at the last 3 conferences I have been to (I’ve only been to three in the past year). But, now thanks to more scholarships and grants, we are having more students from what I call the “forgotten side” of the digital divide going on the college. Time for a wake up call…

You Were Born a Digital Native. Now What?

Digital native – digital immigrant. They are two hot “buzz-words” in the world of Ed Tech right now. And two of the more misunderstood words, I think. The concept is, if you were born near to or after the invention of certain technologies, you will be more comfortable with them. If you were born before that, you had to “immigrate” into the digital world, and no matter how much you learn, you will always be some what of a foreigner to the natives.

Well, that’s a bit of a simplification of the concepts, but that’s how the average person tends to understand them currently. Well, the average EdTech geek, that is. The problem is, I don’t feel they quite exactly describe reality. The thought that your digital “level” is determined solely by your age ignores two other important digitals: the digital divide and digital ignorance.

Most children in this world don’t have access to a computer. So they can’t be considered natives. Many that do have computers simply just don’t learn how to use them properly (as Katrina looked at in an earlier post). Many so-called “digital immigrants” take tests to see where they land on the scale, and test as a native, even thought they are told they have to be immigrants because of their age. (Okay, this last one describes me and maybe I am a little bitter).

I propose that digital labels should follow your actual level of knowledge and training. Maybe we should debate this one in the comments. But here are some ideas:

  • Digital muggles
  • Digital newbies
  • Digital, um, middle-of-the-road-people (who know something but just aren’t gurus yet – can’t think of a term for this one)
  • Digital gurus