Of Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants and the “Digital Naive”

I joined a TV show, Rubbin’ Minds, yesterday to discuss what the show host (Y! Naija’s Adebola Williams) described as “eSpace”. It was an interesting discussion that covered topics such as what it means to be an Internet entrepreneur in Nigeria to the opportunities that exist in the space – and more. I was specifically asked to touch on the role that technology plays in PIN’s Ajegunle.org project and we also discussed the subject of certifications. Well, my thinking on the Certification vs Proficiency debate is all over this blog – and it’s best summarised in a phrase that seemed to catch on from yesterday’s show: “get certified but don’t be satisfied with the paper certificate because proficiency is what will get you a seat in the room even after certificates open the door.”

Discussing the ease with which the younger generation adopts – and uses – technology, I naturally had to touch on the concept of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. I was also tempted to add a third category that I’ve been thinking about of late – the “Digital Naive”. Much has been said about Digital Natives, the generation that was born into technology just as many from my generation were born into the era of coloured TV sets. We were comfortable to open boxes that were marked “Betamax” or “VHS”, as long as we knew what would emerge was going to be connected to the TV so we could watch movies like Sound of Music; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly; and Clash of the Titans. [By the way, I’m looking forward to the remake of the first two classics.]

We just knew how to handle the technology of the day, we were the remote control geeks. So, no one is surprised when 2 year-olds – who basically spent the first few months of conscious existence seeing mobile devices as toys – unlocking iPads and demystifying our thousand-dollar toys. They are Digital Natives, and there are millions like them in their teens who don’t know the caution that we exercise regarding online privacy or don’t shrink for a second when we mention the possibility of wireless communications without gadgets – just from one mind to another. But then, there are “we-we” (if you understand that, you’re a Nigerian), the Digital Immigrants. Our voyage led us, as immigrants, to the world of digital opportunities. We still remember the period when access was plug-and-pray, when we literally took a break between launching the Yahoo! Mail page, logging in and right-clicking to open each eMail in a new window – not tabs.

But then, both camps have been known to make the best of digital experiences, and what I’ve noticed over the past few months is a new class – the naive. They may be natives or immigrants by historical interpretation, but they are unaware of the potentials of technology beyond the surface. They spend countless hours roaming the social media space – signing up until they confuse passwords – but have not mastered the art (or is it science) of using the tools beyond play. They retweet for possible attention, chase followers for numbers, threaten friends who have refused to show digital allegiance, but do not bring either content or value-laden interest to the table. For the Digital Natives or Digital Immigrants who are yet to see the true networking potential of Facebook, the content/feedback prowess of Twitter, the career value that LinkedIn brings, just to mention few social media-specific examples, there’s a chance the word “naive” is what truly qualifies their digital status.

If the multiple hours spent online does not increase your wholesome experience or add tangible value, either as a student, entrepreneur, employee, etc, then you may also be part of the “Digital Naive” club.

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