Over the past…7 years, there has been much talk of “digital natives.” Also known as Gen Y or the NetGen and broadly defined as those born after 1980 (though I like to think there are a few from, say, 1978 that, based on how that person was raised and interacted with technology, is more native than not), this generation has some pretty defined and different characteristics from previous ones. Specifically, digital natives interact with technology not as tools, but as organic components of their daily lives. 24/7 access to data and media, constant connectivity, multitasking (a loaded term, I know), etc. Completely different.
Gen Y would have entered college around 1998. That’s a pretty big lag from around 2004 when I first heard the term coined at an Apple Executive Briefing on higher education, but there is always a gap between the arrival of a new “type” of student and shifts in pedagogy, curriculum, strategy, and perhaps even personnel in response.
I am purposely using quotes here and there because there is so much attention paid to how different digital natives are from their predecessors- Gen X or digital immigrants. There is even sometimes fear about how to deal with such students, with terminology seemingly better suited to a safari trip than a web team meeting.
While at a dinner with friends of a friend the other night, all of whom were about 45 years of age, it occurred to me that the reverse is equally true – digital natives need to be considerate of their interactions and communications with digital immigrants. If they are not, they will remain ignorant of some significant issues and may miscommunicate due to basic presumptions that can be easily dispelled.