‘Digital native’ is currently a very popular word in the global scene. Amazingly, the word has recorded more hits on websites than public debates. For instance, in UK alone, there were over nine hundred hits on the Google search with incomparable numbers of articles and Internet articles exploring the term and its concept. However, the term has indicated limited use in academic-related searches, leading to the conclusion that although the term is by all circles popular, there is still a limited academic research on the concept.
Helsper’s and Eynon’s arguments on the digital world are based on the argument that breadth of use, self efficacy, education and experience are instrumental in how people become digital natives (2010, p.504). According to the argument, the nature of the digital provisions and the natural existence of individuals must be well understood.
Over the recent years the term ‘digital native’ has gained popularity and steady momentum. The term is popular among university students through the relentless works of Prensky. Digital nativity seeks to address the needs of students in technological fields. Digital natives have been bestowed with better cognitive abilities more than the digital immigrants. This can be attributed to innovative digital technologies and their interactive natures. There has been a great increase in digital activity among the pre-teen population who is considered as eager in the experimentation of new technology (Dutton & Helsper 2007).
It is further argued that digital users who use frequently computer-related communication have displays of poor attention spans. Usually, the group tends to consist of young people who have been nicknamed as the next generation or the millennial. The use of these among other labels such as the Google Generation, Cyberkids and Digital Natives paint a clearer picture about the major significance that new technologies have scores of young people. Life has become nearly impossible to imagine without technology among the young folks (Livingstone 2007). The significance of computers and the springing up of new technologies cannot be overlooked among the young generation. The rise of new technologies is a key prediction in the communication, innovation, learning and socialization. The augment of communication technology has been judged to bring with it key implications on education of the new generation. A common misjudgment is the belief that digital native is a product of generational differences. Helsper and Eynon in their paper propose numerous digital activities that indicate digital nativity and the various categories of people likely to utilize the services (Dutton & Helsper 2007). Self-efficacy, education and experience have been described as more important in explaining how and why people become digital natives rather than their age differences. Age is closely linked to the generation the individuals are linked to. Those born after the 1980’s are defined as digitally native. On the other hand experience is operationalized as the amount of time spent on the Internet. This could range from a number of months to years. Breadth of use refers to the comprehensive analysis of the use of Internet that is calculated and ranged on a scale. The breadth of use also compares the different generations and age groups with the years of experience. The result is usually on a scale of one to twelve.
According to Prensky and Eynon, an instrumental effect of technology on young people is a radical change in brain structure. This premise by Prensky and Eynon, rich technological environment probes more interests among the young generation than among the old one. This may be due to their interests in available content and the ease of accessing the information. Younger people can multitask over communication channels more than the older generations, enjoying faster and convenient technological means.
Prensky in his paper precisely explains how the fascinating human brain positively transforms as a result of not only growing up with, but also through the use of technology. The paper further explores the implications of the frequent use of technology on human’s cognitive processes associated with learning. This area of study is similarly being studied by competent neuroscientists from many spheres. (Prensky 2001b).
The concept of immigrant distinction and digital native is characterized by entities that apply to the majority of young individuals up to the extent of the whole generation. These factors include characteristics such as individual’s preferences, availability of technology types and individual learning methods. In relation to the older generation, the younger individuals can be termed as experts when concerned with technological utilization and the resources put in technological advances.
The use of Internet for instance is at a higher scale on the younger generation as observed by researchers. However there is a question of how effective the technological use is among this group. There are significant differences in how young people acquire and utilize technology. According to Prensky (2001), the diversity and complexity in the utilization of new technologies among the younger generation is often overlooked or minimized and in the process, neglecting the digital native in the society.
The rise of new technology has been captured as an important feature among the younger generation and their everyday lives. In fact, new technology is a prediction of future changes in the lives of the young people in all sectors: education, communication and innovation. Among all the spheres, the most affected sector of all young people’s lives is their education (Prensky 2001). Digital natives and their unique characteristics can be differentiated from the rest of the population just by their digital activities rather than conceptions that others hold about them. The transformation into a digital native is attributed to education, self-efficacy and breadth of use.
Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants
The term “Digital Native” was coined from the concept of a native speaker of a language who is familiarized to the language. Similarly, digital natives are well acquainted with the language of computers, Internet, video games and other contemporary technologies (Prensky 2001). On the other hand, digital immigrants are the learners in new technology and exhibit less understanding as compared to the digital natives.
For individuals who lived or were born way before the digital era that boomed in the early eighties, technological advancements are difficult to adapt to. According to Prensky, such individuals can collectively be termed as “Digital Immigrants” who are learning how to use new technologies just as normal immigrants learn how to speak a new language. In some cases, digital immigrants display difficulty in processing or understanding new concepts and technology (Livingstone 2007). Digital immigrants similarly prefer printed text (hard copy) to reading and analyzing data from the screens. They also prefer books to the Internet as a source of literary resources and do not prefer working online. Instead, the use of information manuals and physical delivery of assignments is preferred among the digital immigrants. This has an educational impact on the older generation. The Internet, being a crucial source of knowledge is limited to the younger generation who subsequently enjoy more educational benefits. This is often described as the digital divide. The beneficiaries of the digital era boast of wider varieties of information sources and enjoy more information preferences. The extent to which the digital divide is detrimental cannot be ignored. In aid of the digital immigrants, Prensky suggests that instructors or educators enhance their communication skills in order to ‘reach’ the category. This can be achieved through step-by-step analysis of information with keenness on progress. Prensky further advocates for the use of computer games as an effective teaching method among all digital natives.
Unlike digital immigrants, digital natives are fast in information processing and prefer graphics to text. When both are involved, they prefer graphics preceding their text rather than the vice versa. Natives can also multitask and work best when networked by others. Gratification of completed tasks is instant with a focus on the short-term achievements and instantaneous rewards. It is further argued that digital natives generally display higher levels of activities involved in cognition as compared to the digital immigrants. This is due to the interactions offered by the technology types and the impact of digital activity on the human brain. In addition, studies claim that attention span and reasoning abilities significantly rise to technological exposure. As a result, the natives display more of these characteristics.
The digital native concept has however been under sharp criticisms with researchers terming the Prensky’s approach as overly simplified and based on one’s date of birth. It is argued that the categorization is generally unfair and is a source of inequality in society. Similarly, the proponents of the argument question the evidence on which the Prensky’s premises are based on. It would be untrue to believe that all the young people are too comfortable with the Internet or computers. This is because the ability to learn on the importance and utilization of these is at individual level and not a group initiative.
Perceiving younger people as more ICT inclined and experts can be misleading. This is due to the risks that young people are exposed to in their use of technology. The implications of technology cannot be overlooked and the younger generation requires guidance from the older generation who are considered as the immigrants in this context. Although no empirical information exists on the dangers the natives are exposed to, it will be absolutely naive not to deduce any blooming effects on the behavior and personalities of young people. Labeling is thus criticized as a major influence not only in the learning of young people but also on lifestyle. Self-confidence and self-efficacy of the natives are influenced by the technologies they interact with (Kervin, 2008). Through the article, Prensky questions the way forward when the young generation, termed as the digital natives encounter situations that will be unfamiliar or difficult to handle. The simplest possibility is that the young people will strive to solve the problems on their own without the assistance of the older generation who are viewed as less competent. The trend of perceiving the older generation as less competent will finally have adverse effects on the society. They include generations’ malfunctions where the younger generation view themselves as experts even when they are not. The older generation may end up being reluctant to assist in situations they are required to in the first place.
Though the rise of new technology has widely been captured as an important feature in the contemporary society, the trend still dominates among the younger generation. ICT has played a significant role in their everyday lives. Experts and critiques alike have continuously predicted that new technology will be a major prediction of future changes in young people’s lives in all sectors: education, communication and innovation. As Prensky asserts, the most affected sector of all young people’s lives will be the native’s education (2001). This in turn has detrimental effects on the society and the nation at large.
The fact that young people are frequent users of computers and the Internet is undeniably correct and accurate. Over the recent years, there has also been high prevalence of computers and other forms of technology in the whole society. As a result, the younger generation (digital natives) have combed their skills in internet access and utilization for entertainment, academic and communication purposes. The use of Internet and computers has eased the process of research, information seeking and completion of academic tasks. These Internet and computer skills are however to some extent viewed as confidence rather than competence (Kervin 2008).
Across the board, the use of Internet among natives and immigrants alike is affected by availability of the technological resources, quality of access, attitudes towards technology, skills involved and the amount of exposure to internet services or the frequency of use at home and school settings. Digital natives and their exceptional characteristics can be differentiated from the rest of the population just by their involvement in digital activities rather than conceptions that others, especially the digital immigrants hold about them. The transformation into a digital native is attributed to education, self-efficacy and breadth of use.