What makes us “native”?

Hello everyone, Christina of “Christina and I have been talking a lot” fame here. I’ll spare you the “long walks on the beach” intro and go straight into what REALLY matters–shit. And how it’s Bananas.

In a previous episode of This Shit is Bananas, Tim wrote about some of the problems we found with Prensky’s “Digital Natives” model. One of our biggest problems, actually, is with the term–we appreciate the attempt at labeling a very important demographic, but we don’t like the choice of words. In an attempt at finding a better term and in the spirit of constructive criticism, I would like to extend the dialogue and take some steps towards understanding what exactly sets the Digital ____ apart. Specifically, I would like to focus on the “patterns of use” of a D_.


These days, many users of the internet enjoy broadband connections–not in the sense of CAT5, but in the sense that there is a smorgasbord of options open to me when I want to communicate with any of my other digitally-connected friends: instant messengers, IRC, emails, SMS, phone calls, Facebook messages, Facebook wall posts, blog posts, etc.–and of course, these are just the options that involve technology, because it’s not like I’ve lost the ability to visit the friend.

Upon further consideration, it’s actually pretty strange that this is the case. In the past, each new mode of communication was adopted because it was more convenient, accurate, or far-reaching than the last–this is why telegrams replaced the carrier pigeons, and telephones in turn replaced those. In this system, multiple forms of communication co-existed because either 1) the newest, best form of communication was not universally accessible and so inferior forms had to stick around for those not fortunate enough to have the best or because 2) the newest, “best” form of communication is only best in one aspect (for example, speed) but doesn’t do as well in another category (capacity).

The switch to email is consistent with this, but the proliferation of different communication methods within the same network doesn’t quite fit. In terms of speed or capacity, a Facebook message is no different from an IM. Similarly, the choice of which medium to use no longer has to do with constraint, as access to one means access to all the others on the web. How, then, do two D_s who have a truly broadband connection to each other choose which medium to use? In my experience, the choice is certainly not random–most D_s have a very clear idea of what types of conversations belong on each of the mediums they have, and even if the choice is usually made subconsciously, the fact remains that the choice of medium is, in some ways, a method of expression. I’m not exactly sure what the difference actually is, but I suspect it has something to do with the tone of the conversation–perhaps certain clients are more conducive to whimsical conversations, while others are more suited for serious discussions. Other factors I can think of include splatter range (who else will be able to read it?) and permanence (automatically logging/publishing or more private?).

I was going to write more, but this part got a little long-winded. I’d love to hear some feedback before the next installment: Ubiquitous Expression.


2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    brendan ballou said,

    hey, I’m sitting next to tim in a fortress in croatia.

    “I suspect it has something to do with the tone of the conversation–perhaps certain clients are more conducive to whimsical conversations, while others are more suited for serious discussions.”

    yep. I like to think of facebook wall posts as social haikus. the point is to clever and smart in a short period of time. You wouldn’t email your friend, “what’s the difference between a ferrari and a pile of dead babies? a ferrari isn’t the punchline to this joke.”

    Maybe we should stop thinking of these different methods of communication as different technologies, but different communication styles. The way an older generation might have to choose between a handwritten or typewritten note, we have to choose between a facebook post and an SMS, and the decision won’t be based on speed of delivery but content and tone.

    that was too long to convey a simple message.

  2. 2

    switchbladecapslock said,

    That’s pretty interesting conceptually, essentially you’d be making a shift between statements like “digital natives are talking ON cellphones” or “digital natives are communicating USING e-mail” to things like “digital natives are talking cellphone” or “digital natives are communicating e-mail.” — merging the content with the medium.

    Maybe that’s a pretty good suggestion for a way of revamping the term “digital natives” entirely. It’s not an approach to technology per se, it’s a way of looking at all tools as explicitly tones of communication.

    So “Communication Conscious”? “Medium Aware?”

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