I’m not a Digital Native

You weren't downloaded; you were born.

It’s tough to ignore differences between generations.  It’s also generally poor form to generalize people lumped together by any one trait, like age.  Still, many of us (myself included) are guilty of doing so.

We generally describe Millenials, Generation Y, Generation Next, etc — anyone born past 1982 as “Digital Natives.” Our younger friends (some now approaching their 30s) are given this label because they grew up in the age of personal computers in their household (especially, I’d add, in the US).  For even younger set just approaching their 20s, they’ll find it harder to remember a time when there wasn’t a wireless phone of some kind, and kids in elementary schools today will have never known a time when their computer and phone had to be connected to a wall except to charge the battery, nor will they know a time when they needed an antenna to get a TV signal. Hence, they are digital natives.

Well, I am not a digital native.  I was lucky at the age of 6 to have an Apple ][+ with a green monitor, when high-res graphics were 320 x 200 pixels in four whole colors (which I couldn’t see because of the green monitor).  Many learning professionals lament the summoning of the “Digital Natives” by label, and many of us rush to assert that we lament it because we’d like to be counted in their group.

Not me, at least not anymore. It’s not that I don’t want to be youthful; frankly I appreciate the evolutions in technology in ways I don’t know if younger people do.

Because I can remember, quite vividly, a life before Twitter, before blogs, before Napster and internet music, before DVD players and web sites, before Internet and mobile phones and laptops, before cable or satellite television, before VCRs and computers were in your house.. because I can remember a life in the 70s without the tools of a modern life in the US, I cling a bit more tightly to the new shiny object than maybe the popular Digital Native does.

And then, being a learning “geek” on top of that technophilia, I obsess over my new coveted toy and its implications for how we all can/will learn.  Just wait. My iPad comes next week.  There will be coveting. 😉

It’s not that I don’t use the same toys that they play with; I do.  It’s not that I don’t text or Tweet or update my status on Facebook; I certainly do.  It’s that, perhaps, your typical 20-something just doesn’t place the value in those activities that I do.  I may find Twitter or Facebook or my blog too important, too relevant, too useful so I feel compelled to apply them to the workplace.  I’d like to believe this is the right call.

For me, connectedness is explicit because I can remember being disconnected and still see all the needs for more to connect.  For someone who’s left college in the last year or two, it’s just implicit and maybe they’d assume that everyone who matters to them is connected; they don’t think twice about how many still need to connect. Everyone they need is already at their fingertips.

They’re agile.  My “need” to get everyone connected might be waterfall.  For me or any professional who looks to design learning experiences for Digital Natives for the tools they use, but discounts the bias we have in how we may use the same tools; well, we professionals do so at some peril of getting the whole mobility/social learning thing wrong.

My point is that in every aspect of working culture, people my age and older are building systems, processes, technologies, assumptions — all of which are meant to improve something from what we (my generation and older) experience right now.  Much of what we architect will result in some kind of progress… until we become glued to our designs because as people age and grow more powerful, we become stuck on our design as progress itself. We lose our grasp on the progress for which we started reaching.

That’s when we’ll end up screwing something up that you, the Digital Native, will one day have to fix (and then screw up something else for a generation younger than you).  Every generation deals with this.

I just hope if we as learning professionals are screwing something up, you young whippersnappers are telling us so — and I hope we hear you.