Friday, August 06, 2010

Are young people really "digital natives"?

This article is interesting in that it provides an alternate narrative about today's young people. The prevailing narrative is that these are "digital natives" who are as (or more) comfortable in the virtual world than in the real.

There is little evidence to back such theories up, however. Rather than conducting surveys, these would-be visionaries base their arguments on impressive individual cases of young Internet virtuosos. As other, more serious researchers have since discovered, such exceptions say very little about the generation as a whole, and they are now avidly trying to correct the mistakes of the past.

Numerous studies have since revealed how young people actually use the Internet. The findings show that the image of the "net generation" is almost completely false -- as is the belief in the all-changing power of technology.

A study by the Hans Bredow Institute entitled "Growing Up With the Social Web" was particularly thorough in its approach. In addition to conducting a representative survey, the researchers conducted extensive individual interviews with 28 young people. Once again it became clear that young people primarily use the Internet to interact with friends. They go on social networks like Facebook and the popular German social networking site SchülerVZ, which is aimed at school students, to chat, mess around and show off -- just like they do in real life.

This article suggests that this may not be true in general, and it also points out the need for education in information literacy.
A major study conducted by the British Library came to the sobering conclusion that the "net generation" hardly knows what to look for, quickly scans over results, and has a hard time assessing relevance. "The information literacy of young people has not improved with the widening access to technology," the authors wrote.

A few schools have now realized that the time has come to act. One of them is Kaiserin Augusta School in Cologne, the high school that Jetlir, Tom, Pia, and Anna attend. "We want our pupils to learn how to use the Internet productively," says music teacher André Spang, "Not just for clicking around in."

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