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Digital natives and all that

October 16, 2009
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Torsten Meyer used a great line from Alan Kay on a slide at the recent GBV conference.

Technology is only technology to those born before technology.

It occurred to me today while teaching a new group of students how to use basic Web 2.0 tools (social tagging, feedreaders), so I went searching for it.  Not sure I entirely agree with Kay, but for the most part I think he gets it right. I certainly think so when I see my eight-year-old daughter pick up my phone or iPod and use it with no help from me. No one had to explain to me how to dial a phone when I was a kid. To that extent, I get what Kay is saying.

Then again, it is a handy shorthand for the notion that “digital natives” assimilate all of this new technology with no struggle or effort. I don’t think that is fair to them in some ways. I certainly have students who are young enough that one could say that even Web 2.0 tools have been around for all of their conscious computing life, at least. And still they struggle to some degree, both with the tool and with the concepts behind them, which take root slowly, if surely.

Do we need other models–beyond the generational or those linked to a calendar–to describe how humans interact with technology?

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