digital nation - life on the virtual frontier

A Digital Native's thoughts on where we're going

March 26, 2009 _ 13:19 / Digital Nation Team / comments (1)

Each member of our team here at Digital Nation will be blogging in this space periodically, and I hope to be a frequent contributor. As this is my first post, let me tell you a little about myself, where I'm coming from, and some of the ideas I hope we can explore on this site in the coming year.

My name is Jeffrey Irvine, and I'm 24 years old -- the youngest member of the Digital Nation team. You could call me a Digital Native (cliché, I know), but I think that term is a little misleading. Although my family had a computer as far back as I can remember -- I think it was the original Macintosh -- I didn't get on the Internet until I was 11 and that was via a 28k modem (can you even remember what that was like anymore?). I recall frequently starting to load a page, getting up and doing something else for 15 to 20 minutes and coming back to find it only half-way done. It's fairly obvious that the kids who are growing up today have a vastly different digital experience than I did 13 years ago. Are they the real Digital Natives? Yes and no. I think an idea I'd like to explore in greater detail here is that with the rapidly accelerating pace of change, it seems each successive generation will find more distance between themselves and those just a few years younger.

If you look around our site, you're sure to bump into the theory that digital technology is turning Digital Natives into multitaskers with focus so diffused, they cannot sit down and give a task deep thought or reflection. I certainly multitask as much as the next person -- talking on the phone while zipping between 10 Internet chats and 60 or more tabs per browser window. But I've come to feel that my ability to focus is not nearly as subdued as in some Digital Natives we've read about. I have no trouble sitting down and reading a book -- yet. Perhaps I'm a mix between Digital Native and Digital Immigrant, and since they merged at such an early age, I may also have a mix of multitasking and concentration ability. Or perhaps the categories of "Digital Native" and "Digital Immigrant" are simply too restrictive. I'm surely not alone in feeling that I don't fit exactly into one or the other. Regardless, this brings up the question that if all these digital media truly are turning our youth (or all of us, for that matter) into multitaskers -- and there are pros and cons to that -- is there a way to teach them to balance this with more traditional deep thought and preserve that skill? It seems that too often this divide between multitasking and concentration is portrayed as an either-or proposition (and frequently also either good or bad), but why not both? Why not realize the benefits of both modes of thought?

Finally, why am I blogging? I imagine like the rest of you I have thoughts, hopes and concerns about where this digital technology is taking us. That's really what Digital Nation is about. But like the dichotomy of opinions on the utility of multitasking, I find my thoughts about the digital future also quickly split into two camps: fear and hope. I fear the accelerating change, the potential dangers and the thought that the world I love will become increasingly impersonal and incompatible with the values I was raised with. I hope for the promise of new advances in medicine, new resources to keep us all connected, and new technology to improve the standard of living throughout the world. As with multitasking, though, the digital future is not an either-or proposition; I think we'll find a mix of our fears and our hopes -- the promise of technology and its dangers, neither to the extreme we imagine. I hope we can start to reconcile these here as we go forward.


Aloha Jeffrey!

I remember having this specific discussion with a group of K-12 teachers (al of which were long term tenure with over 20 years of teaching experience) and they were pondering the terms of Digital Native versus Digital Immigrant. Likewise they too felt that the terms were somewhat restrictive and hence, threw out the term for themselves as Digital Refugees - standing on the shore looking at the "digitites", wondering how can a group of "refugees" lead a the next generation of natives?

There certainly are fears and hopes. I must say that these teachers were indeed brave as they venture the world of education with a new mantra - one of which they had no opportunity to experience themselves till now. It will be interesting to see what 21st Century Schooling does to teachers going forward.

Rosemary / June 24, 2009 _ 04:12


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