On digital natives

December 15, 2013 | 4 Minute Read

Today r/italy delighted me with a discussion on this article entitled “Per favore, non chiamateli ‘nativi digitali’” (“Please, don’t call them ‘digital natives’”) by Paolo Attivissimo.

The article is a short report (with consequent thoughts, impressions and rants) from a day spent by Attivissimo talking to elementary school children about digital security. Attivissimo is hit by the fact that most of the so-called digital natives have no clue of the underlying Internet as a structure when using “apps”, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Wikipedia. Also, he recalls of the old days of the IBM PC, the first truly hackable (in the true sense of the word) and truly personal computer. Directly deriving from these things is the fact that is that so called digital natives, although having an innate familiarity with digital accessories, have no further knowledge about them and do not seek for it, and Attivissimo sees this as a terribly worrying thing as most of digital natives look like raised chicken, only mimicking technical skills.

I do share most of his views, but I do have some critics and some thoughts in general.

First of all, I find deriving conclusions from a day (doesn’t matter if a single day or more) with eleven years old children making sense to me. What are eleven year old children supposed to be able to do? (and yes, I think that as the name says, elementary school has to teach basics of using a computer and before anyone else says anything on the matter, I think we should not subtract teaching hours to important subjects like Italian, Mathematics, English, History  and Science. I think Italian school should drop Religion lessons and add Computer Science)

So when would it make sense to test/quantify technical level/expertise of the so-called digital natives?

In my opinion, it would make sense to test it at the end of middle school or even better at the end of high school, at age eighteen or nineteen. Why? Put simply, it’s one of the true points in life in which every student quits being a boy/girl and becomes a man/woman.

Why do I find that point in life so adequate for the purpose?

Eighteen is the legal drinking age in Italy, is the legal driving age, every student can fully and LEGALLY  decide for his/her life at eighteen: he/she can get married, take part at elections, go to jail, sign contracts, get a job and all this sort of things. It’s an important point in life.

(on the matter, I remember days in high school when we weren’t allowed to sign our own things but parents’ signatures were required, always, even if the student was 18 or older. It always seemed to me a way do avoid troubles and delegate problems to families, with the poor consequence that most of students grow up without realizing it, still being treated as if they were fourteen at age nineteen)

When considering this phenomenon we have to consider both the faces of the same medal: yes, children nowadays can use an iPad or an Android device as if they always owned one, but this doesn’t mean they master technology. Actually, digital natives seems to take technology for granted, ignoring the presence of a very complex underlying infrastructure and its history (with its philosophical implications). The latter poses important threats, as digital “natives” may not fully understand threats to personal privacy, censorship trouble and security in general (hello Snapchat users!).

In the end, I can say I share most of Attivissimo’s point, although I think that measurements should be based upon older population of “natives”.

I realize that a post like this should come with proposals on how to solve at least some of the problems underlined by Attivissimo (and shared by me). I’ll probably add to this post, or make another one.

Bye for now,