Digital Native Stereotype

The Problem…

The Millennials and Their Digital Divide

The Millennials are here: young people born after 1981 (Howe & Strauss, 2000). Also referred to as Generation ME, the Millennials are the most ethnically and racially diverse generation the U.S. has ever seen, also the most politically progressive, the least religiously observant, and the first generation to be born into an era where information and communication technology advancement and use are considered part of the norm (Keeter & Taylor, 2009).

In 2001, Prensky coined this generation as Digital Natives, and theorized their brain pathology and learning mechanisms to be vastly different from that of their Digital Immigrant parents and teachers (Prensky, 2001).  Prensky describes teens as having hypertext multitasking minds that think and learn in parallel patterns, due to their extensive enculturation with technology.  He posits that teens are bored by aged teachers who do not communicate simultaneously in multiple modalities: teachers who sequentially communicate, teachers trapped in static linear patterns. It may be true that people born after 1981 have grown up in a digital era, but the leap that this millennial generation is also inherently tech savvy as a function of age cannot be substantiated; correlation is not causation.  The Digital Native versus Digital Immigrant paradigm is an unjustifiable polarization which has generated a mythical stereotype: that all young people are highly skilled in information and communication technology (ICT).

When comparing a student whose internet is limited to the school’s antiquated library computer, to a student with persistent Internet access on their Wii, smartphone, and desktop; it is obvious that exposure and opportunity, not age, prove to be the qualifying variable defining Digital Natives. Those who can afford technology, and have the desire, become the technocratic digital elite, whereas those with limited technology resources become what Brown and Czerniewicz (2010) coined digital strangers: people with less than four years of computer experience, and with no direct access to ICT outside of their educational institutions.   Thus, as the U.S. economic divide increases between the rich and the poor, so does the digital divide increase between digital elite and digital strangers.

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