Introduction to the Life of Digital Natives
Elizabeth wakes up on an ordinary Winter morning in 2007. Before she even thinks of breakfast or a shower, she punches the âonâ button of her Apple laptop as she wipes the sleep out of her eyes. It boots, hitting the wireless network that invisibly blankets her house. A moment later, sheâs automatically logged on to four separate instant messaging networks at once.
As soon as the icons in Yahoo! Instant Messenger light up, a small blue square on the laptop starts to flash. A pop-up box with âyo yo yoâ appears on the screen. Her friend Trevor is awake, too, somewhat to her surprise. He was up late at a rave the night before â Elizabeth saw heâd posted on his LiveJournal blog that he was going out.
âHey Trev,â she types back with one hand, while she reaches for her iPod with the other, âparty OK?â Trevor, from some point unknown, sends back a flurry of half-sentences â it was more than OK, apparently â as Elizabeth connects her iPod to the laptop. She punches a few more buttons, convincing iTunes to download a few new songs and a podcast she likes onto the iPod for the walk to school. She opens her e-mail client as the IM window keeps flashing, Trevor punching the âenterâ key with each new detail. âTMI!â Elizabeth yells back at him through YIM. Heâs given her more info than she really wanted to know about the party.
Ignoring Trevâs persistent messaging â the âTMIâ did not sink in, apparently â Elizabeth opens her e-mail client, watching as a few dozen messages, sent her way during the wee hours, float onto her screen. After a quick graze over the message titles and news headlines that arrive in the inbox, much of it looking an awful lot like spam, she decides e-mail can wait til after breakfast. May as well login to Second Life, too, while Iâm at it, she thinks, bringing to life her cute avatar, which makes her smile. Time for orange juice.
Let us shift time zones. Imagine a scene in a rural Lancashire town in 1800. Jack, wakes up with a jolt. Dawn is slowly breaking. He can hear his dad making his way out of the front door. He gets out bed and puts his clothes on. He gulps down some hot gruel. "Coming dad!", he shouts. It is 5am. Outside Jack's father talks in hushed tones with other grown ups. "Alright lad", says Jack's father. The entire group of adults and 'little adults' make their way to the mills - a long day shift.
Childhood is fragmented - the digital native narrative neatly amplifies some of the paradoxical images we have of childhood, how we as a society are coming to terms with the socialisation of childhood in the technological environment and the need to understand how we can better manage expectations not only of adults but also those of the digital natives.
From Erin Mishkin's paper (unpublished) on Cyber Bullying:
Constantly Connected: A Brief Look at Youthâs Life Online
There is no debate over the significant role digital media such as cell phones and the Internet play in most teensâ lives. A recent report of a ten-year study on the impact of online technology on the United States indicated that 98% of youth (12-18 years old) use the Internet (USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future, 2004). With such a large number of teens logging on or text messaging, electronic mediums have become the primary means by which the majority of youth remain connected to their social worlds and by which they maintain and reinforce their âestablished, off- line peer networkâ (Gross, E., Juvonen, J., & Gable, S., 2002, p. 77) after walking out school doors. In fact, one study that relied on self-reported data showed that youth in their sample âspent a majority of their time online interacting with close, offline friendsâ¦ the most frequently cited reasons for instant messaging were to hang out with a friend and relieve boredom, and the most common topics discussed in IMs were friends and gossipâ (Gross, 2004, p. 642).
A study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project (2001) indicated that for a fifth of all youth Internet users, IMing has become the primary means of communicating with friends. In addition, 56% have more than one email address or screen name, and, of this group, 24% say that they keep at least one of those addresses or screen names secret from their friends or family. Interestingly, 24% of teens have pretended to be someone else while communicating online (Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2001). Still another study based on self-reporting found that âonline pretendingâ was motivated by âa desire to play a joke on friends more often than to explore a desired or future identityâ (Gross, 2004, p. 633).
Being connected is not just limited to participating in online activities, however. As additional studies have shown, cell phone usage is especially high among teensâwith phones being linked to social status and a tool for â[expressing] belonging in social groupsâ (Palen, Salzman & Young, 2000, p. 2). Another study conducted in the UK indicated that teens use text messages as a ritual form of gift giving because of the memories and shared meaning associated with the messages.