The Myth Of The “Internet Generation”

I’m glad to see more evidence dispelling the myth that there is a generation that is so tuned into the Internet they put others to shame. There’s no such thing as “digital natives” or an “Internet generation”. There were no “automotive natives”, “electric natives”, “movable type natives”, or any other “[insert technical revolution] natives” in human history.

I do suspect the results will be slightly different in the US where social and cultural differences tend to result in more online usage and less social interaction than in Europe, but that is still immaterial.

The idea that any skills can become almost innate is silly at best. Growing up with something doesn’t make you more functional with it. Human language is a very specialized skill. Equating language to using a search engine, managing files on your computer is hardly sensible. Language is so specialized science suggests there are parts of our brain that have evolved specifically for language. By contrast we don’t have a part of our brain for computer or internet skills.

From the article:

More surprising yet, these supposedly gifted netizens are not even particularly adept at getting the most out of the Internet. “They can play around,” says Rolf Schulmeister, an educational researcher from Hamburg who specializes in the use of digital media in the classroom. “They know how to start up programs, and they know where to get music and films. But only a minority is really good at using it.”

It’s not really surprising. People learn to do what the need and want to do. They also know how to shop in stores, and watch movies in theaters. That doesn’t mean they know how to produce products and movies. They don’t even become experts in products they buy or movies they watch. They became consumers over a new medium and nothing more. They couldn’t tell you what format the YouTube video they watched is in, and they likely don’t know what format it’s in at the theater either. They don’t know the technology behind their favorite websites, and they don’t know what goes into running a store. They just consume. That’s what consumers do.

A special segment with an interest in it will specialize in it and learn. Those people generally become Computer Science majors. Others will choose things like medicine, geology, marketing, economics and basket weaving to gain a thorough understanding of and eventually use for gainful employment. None of these fields had “natives” either despite having their own renaissance periods.

So lets stop with this “Internet Generation” stuff.