I see a lot of people saying that Prensky's concept of Digital Natives (http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/prensky%20-%20digital%20natives,%20di...) is flawed because e.g. you can't differentiate by generation, that not all young people are a whiz with technology, or that brain structures have not been modified by experience with technology. To some extent, they have a point - Prensky asserted that "Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.", which was, I would argue, an over-egged view (after all, it is almost impossible to identify anything for which you can accurately state that is is true of 'all' cases, especially with regard to biological entities). However, if we take the use of 'all' to be hyperbole, or perhaps true of the specific target audience, we can look at the rest of the concept. Those who decry the DN idea because there are members of the generation Prensky refers to who do not fit the Digital Native model may like to consider that he specifically describes using Digital Natives instead of other generation-based terms, such as N-gen or D-gen. In other words, he has discarded the idea of Digital Generation and favours Digital Native, specifically separating the term from the generational, and goes on to describe how the DN is influenced by their environment being technology rich throughout their lives.
Dave White has taken the discussion a stage further, introducing the ideas of Digital Residents and Visitors who view the web (or other digital habitats) as places to live, or visit. These types of people are seen as exhibiting different behaviours, and consequently, are likely to have different skill sets. I am tempted to identify those who refuse to have anything to do with digital technology, who haven't had the opportunity to, and those who are virtually 'imprisoned' in a digital life, but the truth is, of course, we all lie somewhere on a continuum.
The interesting bit about Prensky's piece on the Digital Native, however, is that there may come a point where we are so well adapted to a digital lifestyle that we can no longer learn in more traditional ways. I think most of us today would consider that to be an undesirable state of affairs, and I am sure some would say it could not happen. However, the brain adapts both in terms of synaptic strengths and concentrations of neurons to offer us the best performance given our environment.
I do not know whether it is the case, but it is entirely conceivable that the mechanisms which allow it to adapt may also be, themselves, adaptive. If so, it is possible that the brain could 'learn' to learn in ways which are highly suited to a particular niche. If this is the case, it is certainly feasible that it could reach a point where it cannot undo some of that meta-learning. Of course, the same could be true of those who have grown up in a more traditional environment - it may not be possible for their brains to learn to learn in the way best suited for a high-speed, context switching environment. Personally, through introspection, I would class myself as a Native, Resident with a hint of Immigrant (because my early childhood only had the TV, and I didn't get a home computer until I was 14). I think people need to revisit the idea of the Digital Native again, but only after they cast aside the apparent current prejudices. I know it is in vogue to 'diss' the idea, but I honestly think it has more merit than many are willing to give it.
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