Sunday, June 01, 2014

Digital Natives - more conventional wisdom than truth, I think

There is a school of thought that thinks applications of information technology and the digital world continue to be a "young person's game". One expression of this school of thought is the label "digital native". I don't agree.

I think it is reasonable to believe there continues to be some statistical correlation to "digital fluency" and age, but it is increasingly weaker. The average 18-year-old does not "get" digital technology in some qualitatively different way than the average, 40-year-old knowledge worker. By virtue of their age, and the free time and lack of installed base of digital commitments that comes with it, they are undoubtedly more likely to adopt and experiment. But I don't think using 5 social-media tools, versus the 1 their parents likely use (Facebook), represents a major qualitative difference in experience.

Something that particularly surprises me is the lack of adoption of person-to-person electronic payments by the millenials. Judging by my 3 older teens, this generation is as likely to rely on IOUs and cash to settle debts as we were at their age. None of them seem to use the very convenient PayPal app, or its competitors.

Then there is the tendency to conflate comfort with "digital lifestyle", and technical understanding of information technology. In the latter area, I think there is even less difference between digital natives and their parents. In my experience, the typical, non-STEM teen has a very shaky understanding of the Windows file system, for instance.

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