Where Are All the Digital Natives?

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I keep hearing about digital natives.

I’d like to meet one.

From all I hear about them in the media, on Twitter, in education conferences and elsewhere one would think there were digital natives behind every tree in every forest.

Or behind every desk in every classroom.

Not mine.

Not any of the other classrooms in my school.

Maybe they’re all out in the suburbs.

I asked my 16-year-old son, a junior in a nice suburban high school, if he knows any digital natives. He doesn’t.

I really want to meet one.

So where are they?

I work with students who range in age from eleven to 16. I’d think that would be in the prime age-range for being digital natives, but no.

Maybe there aren’t any digital natives in the Bronx, home of the nation’s most poverty enhanced congressional district.

Maybe they’re all in Manhattan. Or Kansas.

Maybe they’re as rare as left-handed dentists.

Or maybe they don’t exist at all.

Just another figment of imagination, or perhaps just a neat phrase that inadvertently tripped off the tongue of some glib presenter somewhere and stuck.

Believing in digital natives is not as harmless as believing in the tooth fairly, though.

Thinking that all kids are digital natives means we don’t bother to teach them about digital things.

Thinking that all the kids are digital natives makes it easy to forget that there are a lot of kids from poor families who still do not have access to the most basic modern technology that most of us take for granted.

Out of the 85 or so students I teach, 26 say they don’t have any kind of computer at home. Of the 59 with computers, 14 say they don’t have access to the Internet.

Most of the remaining 45 say they just got Internet access within the past 18 months.

There may be digital natives somewhere.

But let’s keep in mind that there are digital have-nots right under our noses.

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9 Responses to Where Are All the Digital Natives?

  1. Cheryl says:

    So so so so very true! Thanks for expressing it. Age is irrelevant, access is more relevant. And besides, we’re all learning, it’s all new, we digital immigrants can learn.

  2. Nathaniel says:

    Wow! This is a great post! I’ve not always liked the term ‘digital natives’. As you say there are a lot of digital have nots. There are also many teenagers/children who have technology but don’t really know how to use it or use it well and safely.

  3. edtgraff says:

    I too often wonder where all the digital natives are at my school. Most of my students have internet access and use it regularly, but…
    I find that they’re very familiar with FaceBook and online gaming, but have minimal familiarity with the web 2.0 tools for research, collaboration, etc.
    Learning to use and navigate the digital tools available should be a priority for both teachers and the curriculum (as should providing access for those who ‘have not’).

    • Peter says:

      I agree 100% edtgraff. My young adult sons have a significantly inferior set of web-based research skills to mine and I am on the far side of 50 years old. Their capacity to mine the web, use web-based tools productively and understand the larger significance of social media is also not as advanced as mine. Being a “native” doesn’t imply anything useful to me. I believe Don Tapscott has some splainin’ to do.

  4. Jamie J says:

    Hah! The digital divide you talk about it my biggest passion in education. I want my kids to have an even playing field (and maybe it’s so obvious at my school because we have wealthy and poor in one building) with everyone they meet. I say all the time that we have just as wonderful students and teachers in our building as the one down the street the Obama girls go to–we just don’t have the same technology so we can’t give our kids the same learning opportunities and exposure.

  5. Tracy Rosen says:

    Yup. Been thinking along these lines for a while. There are some kids who ‘seem’ to be natively digital, yet when you work with them you discover that they are facebook natives or pixo natives but their knowledge and use of tools is limited. And then there are those you mention who don’t own computers at home. We musn’t forget caring and kindness as we teach – let’s not let
    those qualities get lost in this assumption that kids know of what we teach when we work with digital tools.

  6. […] If you’ve read some of my older posts regarding the notion of ‘digital literacy’ or, gasp, ‘digital literacies‘ you may have an inkling as to where my mind may go when it reads the trendy, robot evoking, term ‘digital native’. It goes along the same path as Deven Black’s did in Where Are All the Digital Natives? […]

  7. Tracy Rosen says:

    ps – you’ve inspired the next installment in my ongoing commentary on digital natives, literacies, curricula, and the like :) http://leadingfromtheheart.org/2010/10/24/digitally-native-what-about-humanly-native/

  8. I wonder if the term ‘digital natives’ kind of springs off of the notion that our children can learn how to use all of these new digital tools so quickly. Like programming a DVR or setting up a gaming system.

    There is definitely a digital divide and it is amazing how this digital divide is very similar to one of my biggest passions reading. Kids who have books in their homes and have parents read to them on a daily basis end up reading usually without any problems. Whereas where there are homes with no books and parents with no enthusiasm for reading, tend to have troubles learning to read.

    In connection with digital items, I think it all comes down to what children are brought up with. I have a nephew that is not allowed to go on the computer at all and I am always using the computer to answer my kids questions, read books, listen to music, learn, Skype and so on. Which child is going to be more of a digital native? My guess would be mine, but I could be biased (just a little). I have some digital natives in my home if anyone wants to meet them (LOL).

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