Wednesday, January 30, 2013

To digital or not to digital?

Wikipedia defines a digital native (DN) as, "a person who was born during or after the general introduction of digital technologies and through interacting with digital technology from an early age, has a greater understanding of its concepts..."  I feel that this definition is, in many ways, too friendly and does not care to thoroughly vivisect or consequently analyze the true relationship between the current generation of school children/college students and technology.  Recently, a colleague of mine defined DNs as having a, "symbiotic relationship with technology whereas we are expats of the analog world."  This "we" refers to my colleagues at work, where the ratio of non-digitals to digitals is quickly approaching 50/50.  Having been born in 1979, I don't know if my birth date qualifies me as a DN, but having had the opportunity to play Pong and Burgertime on their original consoles as well as Loderunner, Winter Games, and Karateka on an Apple IIe just might be the very first metaphorical DN passport stamp ever used.  I've played MUDS, I've browsed bulletin boards, I've logged into AOL and Prodigy only to pay $9.99 an hour in order to take part in the "digital revolution" of our country.  Does this give me DN street cred or just make me the first elderly member of DN. society?

Working with young people and their parents, both of whom can often times be buried in the opportunities provided by ever-advancing technology, I have often wondered if I truly occupy a hut in the DN village.  I am 33 years old and played my first entertainment system at the age of 5.  Although I received my first cell phone when I was 22 years old, I have owned and operated an iPhone for the past 5 years and recently purchased an iPad.  I get upset about the prospect of visiting a place where there might be a spotty internet connection and the thought of visiting a locale where I cannot use the internet at all makes start to hyperventilate a little.

Given the aforementioned and somewhat embarassing aspectss of my relationship with technology, I still feel a stronger affinity to the "expats of the analog" world than to any DN and I would like to note a few differences between the two groups:

1.  Patience is a virtue that is slowly but surely no longer being valued as we embrace technology every more closely.  DNs know patience as the time required to wait for a webpage to refresh, a text to successfully be sent, or the time required for their Killing Spree cooldown in WoW to be over.  When researching a paper or project in school, DNs are upset when the first link on Google doesn't provide them with enough information.  Heaven forbid they should have to to search more thoroughly or *gasp*, enter a library and use primary, secondary, or tertiary sources to acquire information.  Analog expats know patience in a more geological (relatively speaking) sense.  Waiting for your children to come back in from playing outside;  waiting for the next book in a favorite series to be released; or watching as the chocolate chip cookies swell, turn brown, and start to smell really delicious are all measures of patience for the analog expat.  Does this make analog expats better than DNs?  I don't know.

2.  Silence.  Have you ever sat in a public transit vehicle and looked at the 17 year old sitting across from you?  Like clockwork, look to their ears.  I guarantee that approximately 75% of DNs will have an earbud in or a headphone on at least one of their ears.  Look to the group of DNs sitting together and conversing.  Even when interacting directly with one another, you can follow the cord from their ear down to an electronic device somewhere on their person.  Can anyone very truly be invested in a conversation when there is a podcast, music, or a book-on-tape (lulz, yeah right) playing in their other ear?  I know silence as sitting on my back terrace watching cars drive by.  I know silence as the pit-pat of my feet as I run through the neighborhood and wonder what is going on in the houses I pass.  Studies show that no one is truly capable of multi-tasking, so is it possible that DNs will eventually evolve out of that inability?  Are they already more capable than their analog forefathers?      


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