Are you a digital native or a digital immigrant?

  • This post is written by Marketing Executive, Matthew White.

    It wasn’t like that in my day is something often said by the older generation to the new one.

    There is probably no greater example of 'it not being like that in my day' than the digital revolution that has taken place over the past 20 years - a revolution that has entwined digital technology such as the internet, mobile phones, video games and digital radio into our daily lives.

    A growing number of scholars, academics and visionaries have started to believe this latest digital generation is not only different from the last one on a behavioural and social level, but that it thinks and learns differently too.

    The new generation are widely known as ‘digital natives’ - a term coined by visionary Marc Prensky. Prensky claims that anybody born after the year 1980 has grown up so immersed in digital technology that it comes completely naturally to them.

    Prensky defines anybody born before 1980 as a ‘digital immigrant’. These immigrants have known life before digital technology and, while adjusting well to their new surroundings, never lose their ‘past accent’.

    But is it really that clear cut?

    Many scholars challenge the claim on the grounds of gender, social demography and the scope of accessibility of digital technology.

    They say that boys use digital technology more than girls; people from poorer backgrounds do not have the disposable income to use it; and arguably the most prominent catalyst for the digital revolution, the internet, is still not available in 10 million UK homes. Can the 10-year old socially disadvantaged girl without internet access still be defined as a ‘digital native’?

    The debate is broadened by questioning the age-groups. A child born in 1980 was 12 when the internet was invented, a teenager when mobile phones took off and 21 before broadband became widely available. This compared with a child born in 2008 who plays with ‘toy’ laptops (that are actually real laptops), toddler i-phone apps and who can now interact with the cartoons on the internet.

    Can both generations really have the same level of digital expertise?

    I was born in 1985 and from my own recollection did not grow up immersed in digital technology. This technology, however, undoubtedly now plays a very important role in my daily life, in fact, I cannot imagine life without it. Does this make me a digital immigrant or a digital native?

    Perhaps we should be questioning the very existence of the ‘digital natives’. Maybe we are all just immigrants constantly adjusting to the rapid pace of digital evolution.

    Do you see yourself as a digital native or a digital immigrant? More importantly, what does it all mean for marketers?

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