Digital Strangers

Digital Natives v Digital Stranger, Champ 2012Compare sixteen year-old student A to sixteen year-old student B

Student A’s Internet experience is limited to the school’s antiquated library computer, the town’s library computer, and to her mother’s smartphone. She loves the computer, especially playing video games like Angry Birds. If student A can walk to her library a few hours before it closes, she must then compete with other patrons for time on the computer.  When she tries to visit websites she hears kids talk about in school, she cannot see them because they are blocked by the library’s filter. Instead, she spends the bulk of her time on Facebook and watching the most popular YouTube videos. Keeping up with the pop culture of Me Gusta Face, Sneezing Baby Pandas, and Double Rainbows affords her a certain popularity in school. But, because she does not own the library computer, she cannot download any software she might want to try.  Student A’s family phone is a smartphone however, which does have unlimited Internet access.  She uses it when she can to text with her friends and play games, but finds Internet searches are cumbersome.  Her mother always asks for her help with the phone, and is impressed with the speed in which student A can text, and with the abbreviated language she uses and understands.  The smartphone is definitely not helpful to her when it comes to typing papers for school though, never mind creating presentations.  Student A is always asking for a laptop of her own.

Student B also does not have a laptop. However, he has a desktop computer with persistent access to the Internet in his bedroom.  He and his friends enjoy having face-to-face group chats using OOVOO software, where they gossip while sharing memes in an online forum.  Student B and his friends especially like the Me Gusta Face meme, and frequently add it to group pictures of themselves using Word, grabbing screenshots as .jpgs., and posting them on Facebook. Occasionally these friends will do homework together online by partitioning questions and sharing answers.  He uses his own smartphone when he is not home, but has to hide it from teachers.  For fun one summer, he built a website with some help from his father. Student B now uses this website to display his “Celebrity Pokemon” creations, images he is learning to build in Photoshop.  When he is stuck, he searches YouTube for How-To videos.  For school, he favors making and editing videos for his presentations whenever teachers will allow it.  He would like to use Prezi sometimes, but he cannot access his Prezi account using the filtered Internet at school. His mother is so impressed with his skills, that she asks him to build her a simple website for her small business.  Student B begrudgingly obliges.Digital Strangers with Me Gusta

By comparing student A to student B, it is obvious that exposure and opportunity, not age, prove to be critical qualifying variables defining a Digital Native. Those who can afford technology, as well as the opportunity and desire to use it potentially 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 little 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.


  1. Yeah, so. Is this a surprise? Most people who have interacted with students understands that some are computer savvy and others aren’t. It’s the same at any age. I guess it might be a surprise to some.

  2. It is a surprise to many, once these kids get into college (IF they get to college!) It’s really about the fallacy of the digital native versus digital immagrant. Some people make assumptions that all Millennial are good with technology, that having tech skills is a function of age, but it’s really a function of money. Professors assume their students should be able to use word, PowerPoint, do searches,etc., with no problem. Also, students lacking tech skills are reluctant to speak up and get help; their shame blocks them from learning more.

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