Digital Natives; Fact or Imaginarical Catch Phrase

The heart of what is a digital native is surmised briefly, yet eloquently, as “students (who) have grown up with technology” (Oblinger & Oblinger 2005).  Having grown up using technology on a daily basis there is little to no inherent fear when it comes to new technological innovation.  Digital natives can pick up a new tech tool (hardware or software) and in relatively short order, have at least a basic understanding of how to make it work.  This group is comfortable using technology to facilitate communication, find answers to various questions, but more importantly, to further expand their horizons by networking with like minded individuals from around the globe at the speed of light.

While I do believe that those born into this technological age have an advantage when it comes to it’s use.  I don’t believe that, in the reference materials provided, that the notion of digital natives is supported by much, if any, empirical evidence.  Instead, digital natives seems to be an updated label or catch phrase for Generation Y.

The most frustrating thing about this however, is that I think that the argument could absolutely be made that there is a fundamental difference between students of today and those even twenty years ago.  The speed at which information can be retrieved, the number of people you can reach in an instant for information, and the ability to access reference material about anything, from anywhere was nothing short of science fiction in our own not to distant past.  Putting this technology to use however does not seem to be a generational or age specific endeavor.  In fact, the student tool-kit can be extremely limited, consisting of only general communication and program specific tools (Bullen et al, 2009).  Not to mention many digital natives have only a very cursory understanding of the technology and systems that they are using with little depth of knowledge about their most commonly used tools.

Clearly, having been born into this technological age has not bestowed infinite wisdom upon the youth of today. Another consequence of the constant, super social, web connectivity and openness of so called digital natives has led to a startling abandonment of maintaining some semblance of privacy online.  This poses a real threat to our youth according to Don Tapscott in “Growing up Digital”.  Aside from personal or potentially embarrassing information getting out, these off color or compromising facts floating around the Internet can also have real world consequences; many employers are now scouring social media for additional information about candidates.

One of the most scholastically alarming items however is the general lack of understanding regarding what constitutes factual information, and more importantly, where to go to find it on the Internet.  As Andrew Keen identified in “The Cult of the Amateur” (2007), many school children turn to popular search engines like Google or Bing for answers and take the information returned as gospel truth.  Unfortunately, because anyone can post just about anything on the Internet, this is certainly not always accurate means to identify factually accurate information.

Students born into technology absolutely have an advantage when it comes to the use of technology.  The comfort and lack of fear they enjoy from never knowing life before instant messaging, the Internet, cell phones, and email allow them to implement new tools easily and without anxiety.  Education should be constantly evolving to meet the needs of students, using technology to reach more students and implementing improved content delivery systems to support various learning styles.  That being said, students will always need good educators to light the way, keeping them on the right path.  Just because information can be found quickly and easily does not make it factual or in any way accurate and students need to know how to differentiate between the two!


Bullen, M., Morgan, T., Belfer, K., & Qayyum, A. (2009). The Net Generation in Higher Education: Rhetoric and Reality. International Journal of Excellence in E-Learning, 2(1), 1-13

Keen, A. (2007), The Cult of the Amateur, Nicholas Brealey, London.

Selwyn, M. (2009). The digital native: Myth and reality. Aslib Proceedings: New Information Perspectives, 61(4). 364-379.

Tapscott, Don “Growing Up Digital


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