Now that we all agree this group of people doesn't exist, let's define the term. Here I turned to ur-digital native text, Wikipedia.
Now let's stop using that term. It's ageist, classist, and it's flat out untrue, both as an abstract concept and as a term that purports to describe some aspect of reality.
One's proximity to technology does not make one a native. Nobody is born with the above skills, nor is anyone placed in a crib or bassinet next to a tablet, smartphone, or a copy of Python for Dummies.
|I got this image from Amazon, but buy the book |
from an independent bookseller, please.
Jenny Emanuel, Digital Services & Reference Librarian at the University of Illinois, Urbana, recently published an article that should put the use of this term to rest. She surveyed students at fifty American Library Association-accredited Masters of Library and Information Science programs, as well as newly minted librarians, by degree. Three hundred and fifteen survey responses and twenty in-depth interviews later (20) it is clear that at least among this sample, there is no such thing as a digital native.
Instead, there are a group of people that are, by dint of birth year, on average, slightly more comfortable using recent technological advances to communicate than people older than them, but the younger group of librarians and librarians-to-be is not comfortable using this technology to create, as evidenced by figure 2 on page 24, in which participants express a desire to learn to program.
That is to say, Millennials are using technology, and no doubt their communications create knowledge, but they are consumers of the technology, not creators of it.
Some of the interviewees raise issues of age, class, and geography.
not all considered themselves a digital native, very tech savvy, or able to pinpoint exactly what their tech skills are. Most, however, did believe that there were differences in technology use and attitudes between librarians who were younger versus older librarians. (26)and
when pressed, not all considered themselves digital natives.... Rachel grew up in a poorer home that always got technology second-hand, and she always thought they were behind others. Although her family first had an Apple Computer in the 1980s, she did not recall using it, and just thought of it as a sort of “new appliance” in her house. Her family did not emphasize technology use and saw it as something not worth investing in until they had to, which gave her a different perspective of using technology only as necessary and as “one of those things that sometimes I just don’t want to deal with.” Samantha grew up in a rural area that only had dial-up Internet, which embarrassed her and did not work as well as she thought it should, so she did not use it, leading to a belief that she did not grow up on the Internet in the same way as her peers. Because of this, she did not consider herself a digital native. (27)and
A few interview participants mentioned the tech skills of people even younger than they are, or current college students they work with. Betty did not see younger coworkers understanding what is needed to develop or understand the back end of technology and believed younger workers do not use technology to communicate as effectively as they could. Edward, who works at a for-profit career college that has many poorer and nontraditional students, stated, it is “not just the 50 year olds, but the 18 year olds who don’t know how to attach documents to an email.” (29)Thus, a group of people, librarians and librarians-to-be, that one would think would express comfort with technology instead present a much more nuanced picture. The myth of the digital native has implications for library and information science programs as well.
It's an interesting article and I encourage librarians of all stripes to read it. I also encourage librarians of all stripes to stop using the term "digital native," or its friend "born digital."
Emanuel, J. (2013) Digital native librarians, technology skills, and their relationship with technology. Technology and Libraries, 32(3) http://ejournals.bc.edu/ojs/index.php/ital/article/view/3811/pdf