Digital Natives, Web 2.0 and Development

The problem of writing in several places and doing it in different languages is that, after all, it is quite difficult to establish or draw a consistent thread of your own thinking. If you, indeed, do need this verbalized/explicitly-written summary of your ideas for other purposes, tracking it down is, more than interesting, a must. Here comes, hence, some things I’ve said somewhere else in the past days, just slightly elaborated:

The myth of the digital natives (source)

When talking about the digital natives, it is common to listen to people talk from radical, opposed approaches: the digital native is an axiom vs. the digital native is an absurd nonsense. Just few try and stay in a middle point.

I believe — I really mean it — that it makes no sense talking about digital natives in a generational sense. I’d rather call it a “syndrome”, a syndrome that younger generations (due to their capacity of aprenticeship, because of their major contact with new technologies, etc.) could be more prone to show (and this should be tested, of course) in comparison with older ones but, indeed, not exclusively.

In my opinion, “native” and “immigrant” are just ways of naming things, situations, nor theorems neither faithful descriptions of the reality. It’s just for us to quickly understand each other. Maybe Expert 2.0 does not carry so much determinism in the concept. But again: to me, the concept — ambiguous, equivocal, informal — is useful to describe the symptomatic chart, characterized by the different features drawn by Prensky, Palfrey/Gasser and others.

The “digital native/immigrant” construct should help us as a “proxy” of that difficult to measure variable that is “how much have we changed?”, by bringing a series of explicit characteristics to test.

Thus, we could analyze the way digital capacities and competences are acquired but also what is the final result, how these digital competences have transformed the individual, his habits… In this train of thought, the “how” would be the independent variable and the final result the dependent. For instance: using a mobile phone 24h a day, does it change my life? or, going further, using a mobile phone 24h a day does it give me some (digital) aptitudes that evolve into a (psychological, social, economical) change?

Then, the most interesting part in Prensky’s concept is the debate that it generates, the question thrown to the arena, more than the details — probably most of them arguable.

Should we all be digital natives/settlers?

Maybe not, maybe digital tools are neither the only ones nor the best ones, for all or for everyone. But, on the other hand, we are in a society that more and more gets demonstrated that:

  • productivity will depend on the management of information and knowledge
  • to keep one’s job will depend on the digital competences in a very broad sense
  • business, production and cultural models are changing drastically and very quick
  • law, rights, duties, values, identity, socialization… are being subverted from head to toes
  • etc.

In front of this, it is in no way trivial or marginal to analyze the technologies that are provoking all these changes — and the adoption that specific social sectors make of them.

As the Industry changed the world since the XVIIIth century, there is pretty much evidence — and growing — that Information and Communication Technologies are reshaping the world, and to the point that we might be living a Third Industrial Revolution. Some even talk about a Digital Revolution, at the same level of the Agricultural Revolution or the Industrial Revolution.

So, digitize yourself or disappear. All society should enter this digital revolution — and the start is skills — to transform itself: not doing it might involve walking the same path developing countries took when the Industrial Revolution took place (for several and very different reasons, of course). Because the digital revolution, as the industrial revolution did, will affect both the ones that can access it and the ones that cannot. You just cannot switch the computer off and forget about the Information Revolution.

Web 2.0 and the role of the user (source)

So, is the Web 2.0 the solution to empowerment, to digital literacy, to democracy and so? Criticism states that surveys show that the concept of the prosumer is a fallacy and that almost everyone is a lurker, a voyeur 2.0.

My opinon is that, besides comparing horizontally (i.e. how many contribute to Web 2.0 sites and how many don’t), we should also compare vertically: how many now and how many before, just when there was no Web 2.0 or, even more, when there was no Internet at all.

The simile of democracy is perfect: better a dictatorship, a non-universal suffrage, or a democracy, even if statistics show that just half of the population actually votes while the rest does not even care standing out of the couch?

I guess that, being the subject so recent, it is no frivolity to speak of the potential and not only facts. Yes, facts are great, and facts — not suppositions — is what gives bread to our tables and pays our mortgages, so we cannot go on talking about the potential benefits of the Web 2.0 eternally and nothing else changes. But, that this potential exists — and let’s hope it sooner or later materializes — is a way good interesting change.

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2007) “Digital Natives, Web 2.0 and Development” In ICTlogy, #50, November 2007. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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