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Digital natives: born to be online?

Digital Baby CartoonAccording to Marc Prensky- who coined the terms digital native back in 2001

students today are all native speakers of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet

For the last three decades, children in the first world have been growing up in an increasingly technological and digitalized environment: cell phones, PCs and DVD´s  have given way to smartphones, laptops, tablets, I-pads, blueray and interactive video games, and most importantly, cyberspace and social networking. Digital natives develop new skills and capacities as they are raised in a technological society: in fact, Prensky claims digital natives “think and process information fundamentally differently”.

Several questions arise: to what extent is the digital native phenomenon a fact? What is different about digital natives? What do these new features imply? Are present day educational policies appropriate enough to satisfy the needs of these generations of young learners?  What about the third world and the developing countries; should a digital education become a human right?

If you were born in the 80´s or later, you probably belong to the first generations of the digital native phenomenon, which has its roots deeply embedded in concrete socio-economic circumstances. Obviously, not all children and young adults in developed countries have equal degrees of access to digital tools, and if they do manage digital technologies, their experiences differ widely. Generally, digital natives spend several hours a day viewing screen media (computer, TV, or cell phone), which means that they read less books and lead a more sedentary life. Digital gadgets can create addiction or extreme dependency, leading to isolation and other sociological problems, even implying serious health risks. On the other hand, access to technological resources is still very limited in developing countries and the third world: Africa, for instance, constitutes only 5.7 % of the total world internet usage, despite initiatives such as one laptop per child, which aims to give an opportunity to the world´s poorest children through education: the laptop functions as an essential tool to connect these children to each other and the world.

Digital natives are thus a fact, though not a regular phenomenon. They still constitute a small percentage of the total number of Internet users (2,095,006,005). Regular internet users can obviously be more or less skilled than digital natives, and vice versa. However, the number of digital natives will continue increasing, and in recent studies “they are held to be active experiential learners, proficient in multitasking, and dependent on communications technologies for accessing information and for interacting with others”, according to Sue Bennet. However, in the essay “the digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence”, this expert warns us about the dangers of generalization and mystification, as there  appears to be “a significant proportion of young people who do not have the levels of access or technology skills predicted by proponents of the digital native idea”.

Digital natives thus differ widely among each other, as they show variable technical expertise. It has been argued that education must be reformed to meet the needs of an upcoming radically different generation, while the truth is that these new generations are not universally and homogeneously skilled in digital matters. It is true that digital natives need guidance in order to explore and develop their skills and capacities, and education (a fundamental human right) should be digitalized in order to democratize access to cyberspace and offer equal opportunities to children who will have to continue living in a digital (but quite rotten) world, where extreme competence, exacerbated capitalism, and growing inequality reign. In fact, the only way out of this spiral of madness is world scale communication, which can only be achieved if we successfully prepare the present day generations of digital natives for true progress through the difficult task of interconnecting the world to secure the future of mankind. Technology advances inexorably and mankind should not stay behind, but take the reins. After all, computers are mere tools; deep inside, human beings have essentially remained the same for thousands of years. We have to change: the digital era may be the perfect scenario to do so, and digital natives, the perfect actors, the shapers of the future.


Marc Prensky (2011, October 5). Digital Natives Digital Immigrants. Retrieved 2011.12.18 http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Marc Prensky (2011, December 6) Do they really think differently? Retrieved 2011.12.18 http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/prensky%20-%20digital%20natives,%20digital%20immigrants%20-%20part2.pdf

Sue Bennett, Karl Maton and Lisa Kervin. The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review ofthe evidence. Retrieved  2011.12.12. http://kimhuett.wiki.westga.edu/file/view/The-digital-natives-debate-A-critical-review-of-the-evidence.pdf

World Internet Usage and Population Statistics (2011, March 31) Retrieved 2011.12.16 http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

Image: Evolution of the digital native. In Avalon 5. Retrieved 2011.12.18                      http://www.avalon5.com/editorials/chaos-thinking/evolution-of-the-digital-native/

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  1. December 23, 2011 at 7:22 pm

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