Digital Literacy Part 4: I have always cringed at the term “Digital Native.”

I have always cringed at the term “Digital Native.” I am not sure why, but I don’t know what the term really means.

Definition: A digital native is a person born or brought up during the age of digital technology and therefore is familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age.

For me, native has the connotation of someone who inhabits an environment with ease. A personal example is English as my native language. I might struggle with a few words such as “otolaryngology” from time to time, but I consider myself fluent in the English language. I also feel at ease in the norms and customs of American culture. Of course, there are some areas of the country where I don’t understand specific region eccentricities but for the most part, I can make my way with ease around this country.

I believe the term Digital Native has two elements. The use of the tools such as tablets, phones and computers used to access the Internet and the actual environment of the Internet. I am not interested in the tools because they continue to get easier to use and soon will require little to no skill to master their operation.

In my defense, when I think of skills I am thinking of the construction of a bow and arrow or the skill required to use a weapon to successfully seek food. I believe such skill is of greater importance than learning how to turn on an iPad and play Pokémon Go. But is the idea there is no skill to master just my option? I hear the outcry of differing opinions stating these tools do require skills for use.

I am interested in the environment of the Internet not the access of devices. How is it that we can be natives of a place changing at such a rapid pace, yet we have no real understanding the environment we inhabit? We might argue we can possess that understanding because we live within a world that is evolving and we are successfully adapting and inhabiting within the space with few problems.

One counter argument is the fact humans possess a genius internal design and natural sense of sight, smell, touch that work in harmony to help us cope with such changes. While this might be true in some cases, evolutionarily we lack natural human senses with the ability to detect the changes occurring on the Internet. These changes are unknown and invisible. Facebook is a great example. [Full disclosure I use Facebook almost every day and I have a bias towards Facebook. I do not like the company or the product. I am guilty of using a product that I at some level truly despise yet my daily use speaks of my inconsistency and hypocrisy.]

In 2014, NBC reported that the average Facebook user spends 40 minutes a day on their site. Mark Zuckerberg peevishly commented this was not enough market share because the average American spends on average nine hours a day engaged with digital media and he wanted a larger slice of the pie. The same article pointed out a stat from the Bureau of Labor Statistic saying the average American teenager between the ages of 15 – 19 spends 4.2 minutes a day reading a book. A mere two years later, Zuckerberg got his wish. The New York Times reported people now spend 50 minutes a day on Facebook and the number of Facebook users had also increased.

The number of people on the plant accessing Facebook daily on their mobile device is about 1.1 billion. Those additional 10 Facebook minutes translate to about 7,638,888 days of daily human potential. (Feel free to check my math.) As we added value to Facebook as a product, we did so knowingly with any economic benefit in return. Plus, we’re giving away more than you might realize to social sites.

The information willingly shared with Facebook through Likes for sports, music, books, restaurants and other websites contributes to a larger personalized digital footprint, not to mention information from your browsing history and online or credit card purchasing patterns. Collectively, our unique digital footprint informs others about where we “live” in the internet age. This includes the necessity to understand the ever-changing rules of social sites and staying informed about digital rules. Each opt-in, Like and acceptance requires us to be aware of how we are using our digital tools and understand how those same tools manipulate our information, preferences and purchasing history. Computers already do a good job of predicting your personal network size, interests, physical health, and rate of depression, life satisfaction, and impulsivity but ultimately you should remain in control of what you share online and the amount of time spent sharing.

When we are talking about digital literacy with our patrons and providing learning opportunities these are all important considerations. Maybe the term digital native should instead reflect what changes are possible to allow digital citizens, companies and people to act in the best interest of others. In the next blog post, I will take a deeper dive into the idea of what it means to be a digital citizen.