Let’s talk about digital natives.

Since a long time ago, the internet has been tied closely to our daily life. Obviously, with the rapid development of the economy, digital technologies have got developed quickly as well. In China, to use wallet apps such as WeChat or Alipay to pay for any scenario is people’s daily life. Yes, I’ve definitely forgotten the last time of using cash or debit card in my hometown, and sometimes there would be the news that senior citizens don’t know how to use these smartphone apps and then could not buy anything. Although laws regulated that paying with cash should not be objected, we could still conclude that if a person doesn’t know how to do things digitally, it would be hard for him to live in this time.

In 2009, Marc Prensky raised the term Digital Native to describe people grown up in the digital age. Obviously, from the definition, age is the predominant factor. This is reasonable not only because of what happened I mentioned above but also as Gustavo Mesch talked in his article that young generations are in a media-rich environment due to the expansion of the internet. Right, it is no doubt that the environment has a major influence on people’s growth. If a person has been exposed to an environment full of digital technologies when he was a child, he would definitely build a lifestyle upon them. I could still remember the experiment to show kids born after 2000 a tape, and they don’t know what is that. Does that mean a child born this year would not know what a CD is since CDs are out of time at this moment and we almost don’t use them at all?

However, is age truly an appropriate factor to evaluate who could be called a digital native? Because age is the predominant factor, people would always assume that the younger generation who grow up in this digital environment knows almost everything about it because to be digital is their lifestyle. Yes, we can not deny that young people have curiosities, which promotes them to learn new things. But, what about digital literacy skills? If they truly know everything including digital literacy skills, how could things like cyberbullying happen? Thus, we have to think carefully that a person that grows up in the digital environment may not be a digital native or at least the digital native he supposed to be and to teach younger generations digital literacy skills is significant.

Mersch also mentioned that most sites encourage users to have an accurate representation online. So here is the question, what is an accurate representation? For me, I truly would not use the term digital native, or the other side digital immigrant to describe myself. David S. White and Alison Le Cornu use visitors and residents instead of natives and immigrants. Honestly, I don’t prefer any of these because the internet and digital technologies are tools, are what we use to achieve our goals more effectively and conveniently. Sometimes we would describe the internet and the digital world a place, but we all know that they are not true places. The internet is a connection, and digital technologies are ways we get connected. Consumers and producers would be terms I would like to use because surfing on the internet is not the same as traveling to a place, and ask the question “what am going there for?” and “What am I hoping to achieve?” determines whether you are consuming or creating the content. Besides, questions like how long do I intend to stay definitely have no answers because there is no such a clear definition of leave.

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Andy Ding

Andy Ding

Current practioner in Education and Psychology.