Discussing Digital Natives

Digital Natives is a term I recently encountered whilst reading You Are Here. It refers to a book by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, Born Digital: Understanding the first generation of Digital Natives. This post is the follow up from my comments during a Q&A session at this years Kinetica Art Fair.

There is much research and many projects — particularly from Interaction Designers or Digital Artists — which focus on the affects of technology on modern culture. As an example, the new behaviours many people have adopted now that they have a small mobile device in their pocket that enables them to stay connected to the friends and family, wherever they are.

While I do find these projects interesting I am concerned with our general ‘fear’ of and for these people. That somehow they are ‘affected’ by a compulsive disorder, they are no longer in control of their own actions.

Obviously there are times when such behaviours may be causing harm or distress to themselves or to the people around them, and it may be necessary to intervene. But on a global scale this seems unfeasible and in my opinion unnecessary. For me it’s about our perception of what is the agreed ‘norm’ for using technology in an everyday context. More importantly ‘who’ are the people making that decision. We live in an interesting period with three main types of people, the digitally illiterate, digitally literate and the digital natives. But it seems the ‘digital literates’ are the norm, is it also surprising that they are also the people making decisions and passing judgements on this?

I’m not saying that all technology is good, I certainly don’t have that opinion. My point is, who are we to judge?

I will use TV dinners as an example. As I was growing up we had a television set and perhaps when I was 6 or 7 we started sitting in front of the TV whilst eating our dinner. Occasionally at first but eventually this was part of our everyday routine. The Technology of television had changed our behaviour. And not only us but many families in the UK, new broadcasting content, revised TV programmes and fast meals all built up too, simultaneously enforcing and capitalising on this change. Ask an elderly person or even people from other countries and cultures and they might expression confusion and sympathy, their own family meal times were conducted quite differently to ours. But I still received a good education, our family dynamics are great, I’ve travelled and met the most amazing people. And it’s these differences between us that are often the most fascinating points of good conversation — the differences and similarities in opinions and beliefs based on different cultural experiences.

So which approach to eating dinner is correct? I want to put to one side diet, nutrition and health concerns for now, my argument it’s about a difference of opinion and culture, not how much exercise you get in a day.

Many of us look strange and act unusually through the eyes of a stranger. Does this necessarily mean we’re not normal? Do we need to be institutionalised or treated with sympathy? This is a growing concern of mine, as I see more and more drastic measures of integrating the illiterate or intervening with the natives.