Digital Natives Part 1

Are you a digital native? No one has agreed on a definite point on where the digital native generation began and where it ended, but in general it describes people who came in regular contact with computers at a young age sometime in the late 80’s and into the 90’s. They are now in the late 20’s to mid-30’s, and they are the pioneers of today’s social media trends.

So what characteristics do all digital natives share? The most important aspect is openness and an enthusiastic reception to new technologies, both hardware and software. While the older generations may view developing tech and trends with suspicion, frustration, and even fear, the digital native cannot wait to take it for a spin, check out its bells and whistles, and in some cases, find out how it can be broken! This behavior comes from their exposure to emerging software that don’t come with safeguards or pop-up warnings that tell them when their actions might be detrimental to the efficiency of their computer. They logged on to the Internet at a time when getting a virus was very nearly the worst possible thing that could happen! Everything was new, and they were thrust into open waters and allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.

The Unsafe Internet

Internet services like AOL encouraged online interaction with chatrooms, instant messaging, and fun-sounding e-mail alerts.  Online predators and scammers took advantage of this anonymity, and from there the first chat bots were born. They had simple functions: find a username, send them an instant message with a link, and hope an unwary target clicks it. They often led to pornographic sites promising free access or downloads, and from there a vicious virus called a “Trojan” would be installed on your computer. This program scours your system for personal information, including IP addresses, usernames, and passwords, and it would send them back to the person who programmed the bot. Getting rid of the Trojan was more difficult in the 90’s than it is today because anti-virus programs were still building up their databases. Firewalls did not exist yet. If you wanted to keep your information and computer safe, you had to be vigilant and wary of anything and everything that pops up on your screen. If you find yourself staring at a link and wondering if it’s really your friend who sent it to you, then you might be a digital native.

The Internet and scammers are in a constant state of evolutionary warfare. Software that help protect you become more comprehensive and autonomous every day, and scammers find ways to step up their game to find cracks in the system. Before HTTPS existed, scammers would copy all the HTML on common and popular log in pages and create identical pages to trick unwary users into entering their usernames and passwords. The only way to tell for sure is to check the URL bar. Ingenious, really, and quite effective at the time. If you still check the URL of a log in page before logging in, you might be a digital native.

Personal Responsibility and Problem Solving

One defining characteristic of digital natives is the practice of personal responsibility when it comes to maintaining the optimal functionality of a computer. When something goes wrong, it’s not the computer that’s broken. It’s not a failure on the part of the software and hardware, it was something you did! And it’s up to you to find a fix. After you’ve exhausted every possible idea, that’s when you call tech support. Quite honestly it’s one of the most frustrating and satisfying aspects of being a digital native – frustrating when problems occur (and it’s most likely your fault), and satisfying when you fix it.

They younger generation tends to rely more on tech support or, in most computers today, the ability to fix itself by searching the Internet for a solution. But the moment the internet connection is severed, they’re at a loss. Like Marc Scott of said in his recent article, kids say things like “The Internet is not working”, rather than “I’ve lost my internet connection” or “I can’t access the Internet”. Chances are the Internet is always working and there’s something going on with a) the computer and b) the user. If you check your network or browser settings today, there’s a fancy option of automatically detecting proxy settings and establishing an internet connection without you having to do anything. Back in the 90’s we had to configure these settings manually.

It’s not a matter of intelligence, but rather the baseline habits you’ve developed while using different technologies. Nearly everything comes prepackaged today: your operating system (that’s either Windows [Version Here], OSX, Linux, etc.,  young folks), the default anti-virus software, plug-and-play devices, etc. Think about it. When was the last time you inserted a CD to install a program that isn’t a video game? What about a 3.5″ floppy disk? Do you even know what a 3.5″ floppy disk looks like? Everything can be done with just a few clicks of the mouse, and for the digital native, these features are conveniences, not standards.

I realize this is a huge topic, and it’s going to take more than a single post to get this message across. Stay tuned for the next chapters on Digital Natives!


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