Not just digital natives & immigrants!

It makes sense that news media reports about how youth use technology are both produced and consumed through adult lenses. Many news reporters grew up in a very different (mass media) environment, as did a lot of parents, educators, and other news consumers. So we’re seeing and participating in a distorted picture of social media and how youth use them if we’re viewing young people’s use through the traditional news media and our own mass-media lenses. While our children are playing, learning, and socializing with what, to them, is like a new toy or convenience tool, we are slowly grasping the social, economic, policy, educational, etc. implications of a major media shift.

Still, even though there is a generational divide between those who grew up with mass media and those growing up with networked media (realtime, multidirectional, user-produced, etc.), a new paper in FirstMonday, “The digital melting pot: Bridging the digital native-immigrant divide,” suggests that it’s best not to take the metaphor too far. I agree. Digital immigrants/natives is a huge generalization: among other things, it fails to acknowledge how very individual media and tech use is for people of all ages. It also, by definition, says “the immigrant can never become a native, which may serve to excuse individuals without tech skills” from even trying to gain them and understand new media from the inside, according to the paper’s author, Sharon Stoerger. She prefers the term “digital melting pot” because it “refers to the blending of individuals who speak with different technology tongues…. The focus of the melting pot is on the diverse set of technological capabilities individuals actually have, as well as the digital skills they might gain through experience.” Two years ago, Prof. Henry Jenkins (then at MIT, now at USC) used the term “digital multi-culturalism,” writing in his blog that “I worry that the [digital natives/immigrant] metaphor may be … implying that young people are better off without us and thus justifying decisions not to adjust educational practices to create a space where young and old might be able to learn from each other.”

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