R.I.P. Digital Native Theory

…and good riddance. From the NY Times:

Kristen Nagy, an 18-year-old from Sparta, N.J., sends and receives 500 text messages a day. But she never uses Twitter, even though it publishes similar snippets of conversations and observations.

“I just think it’s weird and I don’t feel like everyone needs to know what I’m doing every second of my life,” she said.

Her reluctance to use Twitter, a feeling shared by others in her age group, has not doomed the microblogging service. Just 11 percent of its users are aged 12 to 17, according to comScore. Instead, Twitter’s unparalleled explosion in popularity has been driven by a decidedly older group. That success has shattered a widely held belief that young people lead the way to popularizing innovations.

In fairness, Digital Native Theory isn’t dead, because there was never any such thing. There was talk of Digital Natives in feel-good sessions across academia, but not, at least as far as I can remember, any serious exploration of the concept as something falsifiable. It would be as if I decided that British English was a completely different language than English, and then stood around for a couple hours swapping stories about how those crazy Brits call trucks “lorries” and elevators “lifts”. It wouldn’t pass muster in linguistics and we were insane to let it spread in education.

Now maybe, finally, we can get to the real questions: How do we teach our students to collaborate, cooperate, and communicate in ways fit for the agile projects the future requires? How do we give them methods to make sense of a world where filters are no longer at the point of production?

These teens that we are teaching are the same ones my wife watched go to McDonald’s on their high school Italy tour. Taken as a group, they aren’t the most adventurous lot, and that hasn’t changed because they have cell phones. It used to be the job of colleges to open up their mind to the possibilities they didn’t know about, to expose them to the opportunities they weren’t exploring, to get them to rethink how they approach problems. Now that this digital native nonsense is finally dying, maybe we can start addressing that.

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