Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Myth of the Cyberkid

We all know that kids are 'digital natives' and the rest of us, well ... we're just... not.



Allow me to refocus your cultural lens with a few quotes from some eminent scholars in the know:

"The mother of ten-year-old Anna is surely observing a profound generational transformation when she says: I’ll have to come up to a level because otherwise I will, I’ll be a dinosaur, and the children, when children laugh at you and sort of say “Blimey, mum, don’t you even know that?” . . . Already now I might do something and I say “Anna, Anna, what is it I’ve got to do here?” and she’ll go “Oh mum, you’ve just got to click the—” and she’ll be whizzing, whizzing dreadfully.

For previously new media—books, comics, cinema, radio, and television—even if parent weren’t familiar with the particular contents their children engaged with, at least they could access and understand the medium so that, if they wished to understand what their children were doing or share the activity with them, they could. With the advent of digital media,things have changed. The demands of the computer interface are significant, rendering many parents “dinosaurs” in the information age inhabited by their children.

Young people themselves, conscious of being the first generation to grow up with the internet, concur with the public celebration of their status as “digital natives.” Amir (15, from London) says confidently, “I don’t find it hard to use a computer because I got into it quickly. You learn quick because it’s a very fun thing to do.” Nina (17, from Manchester) adds scathingly, “My Dad hasn’t even got a clue. Can’t even work the mouse. . . . So I have to go on the Internet for him.” But while these claims contain a sizeable grain of truth, we must also recognize their rhetorical value for the speakers.

Only in rare instances in history have children gained greater expertise than parents in skills highly valued by society (diasporic children’s learning of the host language before their parents is a good example). More usually, youthful expertise— in music, games, or imaginative play—is accorded little, serious value by adults, even if envied nostalgically. Thus, although young people’s newfound online skills are justifiably trumpeted by both generations, this does not put them beyond critical scrutiny, for the young entrepreneurs and hackers are the exceptions rather than the norm.


... one should note that while Ted, like the other two, would appear to a superficial observer to multitask effectively, “whizzing around” in the manner that impressed Anna’s mother, the benefits he gains from the internet are curtailed first by his lack of interest in information, education, or exploration and, second, by his poor skills in searching and evaluating Web sites, though one should not underestimate the importance of gaining communication-related literacy skills, especially for teenagers.

As more and more policy emphasis at national and international levels is placed on “media
literacy” or “information literacy” or “internet literacy,” critical scholars have all the more reason simultaneously to support internet literacy initiatives, ... (and) to challenge the inflated public claims regarding the “internet-savvy” teenager that accompany them.

(Livingstone, 2009)

“Our research shows that the argument that there is a generational break between today’s generation of young people who are immersed in new technologies and older generations who are less familiar with technology is flawed.

The diverse ways that young people use technology today shows the argument is too simplistic and that a new single generation, often called the ‘net generation’, with high skill levels in technology does not exist.”

Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC)

Digital natives, redefined.

The problem now is that, try as we might, this boat has sailed, and to a rather disconcerting extent, this term seems to have been incorporated into global vernacular... So perhaps, rather than attempting to subvert it, its time to correct it. As danah boyd (sic) points out in her book, 'It's complicated':

Beyond Digital Natives

Most scholars have by now rejected the term digital natives, but the public continues to embrace it. This prompted John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, coauthors of Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives, to suggest that scholars and youth advocates should reclaim the concept and make it more precise. They argue that dismissing the awkward term fails to account for the shifts that are at play because of new technologies. To correct for misconceptions, they offer a description of digital natives that they feel highlight the inequalities discussed in this chapter:
“Digital natives share a common global culture that is defined not by age, strictly, but by certain attributes and experiences related to how they interact with information technologies, information itself, one another, and other people and institutions. Those who were not ‘born digital' can be just as connected, if not more so, than their younger counterparts. And not everyone born since, say, 1982, happens to be a digital native.” 


Boyd, Danah. It's complicated: The social lives of networked teens. Yale University Press, 2014.
Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected. Edited by Tara McPherson. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning.
Livingstone, Sonia. “Internet Literacy: Young People’s Negotiation of New Online Opportunities."