# POST 5

Finding a working definition for digital native… is the result of a process you acquire through procedures of learning and research

Radical educators have taken the web in hostage to criticize the term of « digital native ». These educators, describing themselves as « radicals », thus opposed the digital native to the digital immigrant and based the whole reasoning on the reading of one book published in 2001 by some guru of E-Learning, Marc Prensky (2001). Prensky defines the digital native as a generation of people who were supposedly born in between the 1980’s and the years 2000, the Millenials. Educators used this definition to pretend that this generation did not exist, has no specificity nor identity, which is like denying the impact of technology on society.

They targeted me because I was defining myself as a digital native in my Twitter profile. I wasn’t even adressing them. The problem with implicit is that it’s doesn’t allow to deal with the proper issue by referring to the accurate concepts as defined within specialized fields, as ICTs (Information & Communication Technology Studies), preventing students to access the debate and to catch a glimpse of what is actually going on by censuring, attacking and excessively polarizing issues.

The danger of fake assumption is to erase the claims raised during the debate maintaining a state of threat and coertion into social media which is precisely what is undermining the potential of the internet for empowerment. Then accusing someone of targeting you when in fact targeting a definition is defamatory and it’s not science as discussing a concept or a definition is part of the public scientific conversation and a call for equal access, and in any case is a judgement about someone. Then it is the social responsability of the scientist to denounce the instrumentalization of science into the hands of politicians.

And this is what these educators do when denying years of research and practice. To deal about the definition of digital native, Prensky uses a concept to categorize another concept, an at-risk scientific practice, especially when the legitimacy of the concept  – the proper concept of Millenials – is contested. It is quite obvious that categorizing users’ practices just by referring to their birth dates is quite simplistic, just as when we talk about Baby boomers, Generation x or in France “Mai-soixante-huitard” (the people who were students at the time of Mai 68). It is certainly a generalization.

Nevertheless, it is a social reality. Baby boomers knew the war. Most “soixante-huitard” knew Mai 68. And Millenials or Generation X or Y (which I belong to) knew the first developments of the technology in society. Even if some people did not know indeed the War, Mai 68 or the technology, a big part of the generation did…

Let me assure you I happened to learn quite recently I was part of this generation so I don’t think the people who were born at this time define themselves by referring to the term of digital native, like if they say :

-Hey, are you a digital native?


-Ok, fine.

-And you?

-Yeah, yeah, me too.

But let’s come back to the Millenials and the very idea that they should necessarily better master technology. This point is equivocated as before Millenials, there were also IT experts that invented the web. So why the hell are the media ignoring them today by calling the Millenials the leading generation. Because Millenials were the first at using mobile phones and computers at home or at school. By doing so, they fostered a social change into relationships and into ways to connect with others via interfaces of knowledge sharing as social media. They were maybe more numerous than the proper creators of the web also. But the real genius were the ones that made it work.

Digital natives historically and sociologically share a common set of values they identify to that is not only defined by their birth date but also, and mostly, by a culture that emerged from the social time they shared online chatting, gaming or writing codes. It creates a sense of belonging and of trust. I was part of this culture and I can attest it did exist. It’s my experience and my story, not only a marketing concept. Confusing technology and capitalism is ideological as ultra capitalist modes of production exist also outside the technology (see the sweatshops in Asia).  I met them online at a time whre you could interact with big heads and where the internet was not devoted to business. They helped me to grow. I miss that time a lot.

Then it’s a fact that ultra capitalism invaded the web. I couldn’t say what the internet has become under the pressure of tech giants still pleases me today. In fact, it doesn’t. But saying the virtual communities contributed consciously to that state of things is highly dishonest and might reveal a certain degree of frustration. Digital natives’ appropriations helped programmers and then, consequently, marketers to make the web more accessible without having to type lines of code. So yes, they did make it  « popular » by trying and inventing stuff with technologies onto their spare time – student time (and even work time sometimes) – and they democratised the access for the others. Does it mean they instrumentalized the web for becoming a tool for domination? Of course not.

The main problem with Prensky’s definition is he reduces the term of digital native to birth dates which creates an artifical dichotomy in-between “digital native” and “digital immigrant”. I think we might maybe raise a call here for over-interpretation. This definition, that was coined 15 years ago, is based on common assumptions about elder people that presumably are not good at technology or are excluded from the digital culture because of their pertaining generation.

In fact, the term “digital native” also refers to people who are fostering practices of information sharing with others users, as their parents, friends, relatives or kids, whatever be their age, gender, social background or color because no one can prevent anyone from using a smartphone or the internet (well, except in authoritarian countries). And who would like it ?

In my Ph D’s dissertation (2012), I coined, following Di Chiro and Eglash, digital literacy as an appropriation based on « strategies to bring together people with different level of technical expertise who would be interested in constructing alternative models » (Di Chiro, in Eglash, 2004 : 239). This definition of the digital culture is open to allow the integration of « aliens » to the digital culture. I was born an alien. I grew up without computer and no one ever taught me. I was born again a native but I never considered myself a digital native or an immigrant because these are conceptual categories I have never heard about and thanks to God because, if I did, I would probably never got to learn anything by doing.

I have met, in these years practising online, many people, including elder ones, who, for some reasons, learnt how to master the skills of the ICTs by themselves. « Do-it-yourself » motto. This is my definition at least even if not the one shared by the most westernized and unethical media.

I analyzed in my researches the ways this expertise can be acquired through intensive media experience, cultural context and social interaction to allow online collaborative sharing and learning (Debaveye, 2012b). It then defines a stage of intensive connectedness that give greater literacy to communities of learners connected with others learners. As I showed, media practices are empowering under certains conditions (Debaveye, 2012a; 2015). The exposure is not only the result of ingenuity but also the result of being the most tracked generation ever which led users to be inventive.

It would be very naive to consider that anyone in possession of a computer, mobile phone or internet connexion today could become an expert by switching on/off. Then ICT’s researchers also coined the term of « digital gap » to deal with the issue of the internet access (Jenkins, 2006; Debaveye, 2012) and many ICT’s experts (Which I belong to also. Have to recall it to some sexists’ revisionists) are today analyzing that problem by publishing studies or making recommendations to enable the voices of the ones who come from targeted communities, minorities, women, person of colours or person with disabilities to be heard. So instead of telling us what we already know, read what we write, keep busy or just shut up.

As with for any kind of other technical knowledge, if you spend your days at doing it, there are no reason you won’t learn and become each day better. Collins & Evans coined the term expertise (2007) as an « experience-based expertise » acquired through practice and interaction (thus technical AND relational expertise), not as something you innately possess resulting from some obscure genetical brain mutation as you sometimes read in Sci-Fi novels (Sci-Fi is great but come on it’s not science! As its name indicates, it’s also fiction).

In cases you enjoy your time cleverly enough to learn new tools and technologies by coding, designing, data doing, testing, researching, blogging, hacking or whatever doing except flatly resharing existing contents or cyber-harassing (yes you educators or assimilated :)), if you aim at collaborating for change, voices can emerge, technology appropriation can occur and new types of knowledge can appear. If not, well, it won’t. And I will surely go elsewhere.

By referring to inaccurate and ideologized definitions of the concept “digital native”, educators are behaving irresponsibly. They foster an unnecessary distinction between the people who master the internet and the others to serve their personal agenda (Yes you educators). They are not educators but creators of violence and they reinforce norms of exclusion as any of our educational institutions always did before. They also rewrite manuals as any of our educational institutions always did before. And they finally privatize knowledge as any of our educational institutions always did before.

Not only this mind framing (or should I say « mindset ») reveals a feeling of inaptitude that can prevent to embrace technology because it considers technologies as spaces of access for the digital native « generation » only but it also indicates a complete lack of distance with the silly production of media advertisers. By narrowing a definition that is open and flexible, by stereotyping technologies and by censuring and attacking content producers, educators deny the roles and status of the people committed into sharing what the internet culture means outside of the business-only culture (you know, intellectuals youhou).

Radical librarians should stop accusing others because of their own personal bias conveyed within the ultra capitalist media they’re immersed in and to short sighted to see. The internet actors and works were in far before corps and firms. Blocking the desinterested passing of information in order to better serve the interests of some private investors or sponsors is making things much worst. So, please, just, don’t. Really. You’re harming yourself.

I am not being paid for my blog and I deeply dislike the people who take my time off from writing.

Using a working definition based on an appropriate review of what’s been done in the past and now looking into the material freely available online would surely help into reaching some kind of knowledge and consciousness. Surely…

Collins, Harry M. et Robert Evans, 2007. Rethinking expertise. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 159 p.

Debaveye, Julie (2012). Emergence et institutionnalisation d’une expertise militante dans les micro-médias. Thèse de doctorat, Université Lyon et Université Laval.

Debaveye, Julie (2015), « L’émergence d’une écologie locale des nouvelles médiatée par @CLACMontreal, les audiences de Twitter et les médias d’information en contexte de (sur)veillance. », in Communication, 33/1, Université Laval, Québec, février 2015 (soumission : décembre 2013). @Debaveye, 2015.

Di Chiro, (2004), « Local Actions, Global Visions », in Eglash, Appropriating Technology, Vernacular Science and Social Power, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Jenkins, Henry, (2006), Convergence Culture : Where Old and New Media Collide. New York, NY : New York University Press, 336 p.

Prensky, Marc, (2001), Digital Native, Digital Immigrants.


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1 commentaire

Web scraping VS Data collection - Digital Inquirist · 19 avril 2016 à 12 h 38 min

[…] Defining a working definition prior to collect for example allow to base the enquiry on an accurate state of the phenomena and to define the research problem. The use of stereotypes or common sense definitions make you at risk with insignificance. The use of scientific and informed definitions drawn from an accurate map of the literature defined by the reading and understanding of previous studies that talk about the phenomena and empirical findings is essential. Many times people base their assumptions on inaccurate definitions of the phenomena they wish to st…. […]

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