After the convention a couple weeks ago in Anaheim, I keep thinking about this issue of adoption. Having endured the presentation I’d nominate for “Most Annoying” on the subject of Digital Natives, I keep thinking it’s more about Digital Ignorants. The major point of the Native/Immigrant debate is that the Natives “learn differently” from the Immigrants but the assertion is based on — as nearly as I can tell — a foundation of behavioral clues and use of technological affordance.
Extending the argument, those who grew up with VCRs understand movies differently because their clocks don’t blink. While it may be true that those with the remote in their hands tend to stop, back, repeat, and slow mo more often than those without, I’d have to submit that the reason they do that is because (a) they can and (b) it occurs to them. Having a blinking clock is merely an artifact of prioritization. If it bothers you enough, you fix it. The underlying appreciation of the medium is based less on affordance than exposure to and knowledge of the vernacular.
The reality, of course, is probably more complex, but I would maintain that this notion is not that much different than looking at the difference between “pedagogy” and “andragogy.” I’ve long maintained that the distinction is arbitrary, artificial, and more an indictment of the shameful ways we treat kids in school than it is any kind of actual distinction in the way people learn. Compare the list of the characteristics of “adult learners” to what are alleged to be the characteristics of “digital natives” and the parallels become obvious.
The problem is, of course, that when we actually face the world of the Digital Ignorant — whatever age they are — we tend to see what we expect to see. The kid using the cell phone to text his gf with “<3 u - xx" isn't being any more technologically savvy than the study hall note passer of 40 years ago. He just has more tools at his disposal. The odds are good that he's still struggling with his history class and bored out of his skull learning English grammar. The adult that prints out email is, more often than not, translating to a "more convenient" (read: more familiar) medium. Is that really so different than having your inbox forwarding to your cell phone?
What *is* different is that the rich stew of available resources is being used by kids to learn a whole lot of stuff that just appalls parents and sends paroxysms of dread thru entire school districts. It's as if the kids all have access to the "secret notebook" and they're using it to learn things that adults can't learn or don't know. This activity is -- and please correct me if I'm wrong -- characterized by these cognitive and behavioural tags:
- Involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction
- Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities
- Most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance to their personal life
- Problem-centered rather than content-oriented
Those who looked up the andragogy link above will recognize these characteristics of adult learners as provided by Knowles but have to admit that they bear a striking resembance to the characteristics attributed to Digital Natives. The only thing different is a statement of the kinds of technology that the Natives are using.
But this fails to address the issue of why the “kids” are using it and the “adults” aren’t. Well, perhaps that perception isn’t really very accurate either as evidenced by a recent Harris Poll that finds that 80% of adults are going online and many of them are using the same technology as the “Natives.”
Could the reality be nothing more complex than an application of classic adoption? The early adopters — in this case kids who have more time on their hands than adults and fewer options available for socialization — are using the tools and toys provided by their parents in ways that many find as offensive and dangerous as drinking cadged beers behind the 7-11 and smoking cigarettes behind the barn was a decade or three ago.
The next time you’re tempted to drop a tab of “Digital Native” or label yourself “Digital Immigrant” ask this question:
Do I eat microwave popcorn differently than my kids?