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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Literacy: Are Today's Youth Digital Natives?

Danah Boyd's chapter Literacy: Are Today's Youth Digital Natives? tells an informative summary of how today's society is divided because of technology.  Her intro to the chapter speaks about how teens have grown up in a world where internet has always existed, and that from this perspective, "teens are 'digital natives', and adults, supposedly less knowledgable about technology and less capable of developing these skills, are 'digital immigrants'".  However, these teens and students are not interested in learning through the use of technology, rather, they are engulfed in a social media world.  Hence, this term of being a "digital native" is more so a distraction than it is a useful trait.  While there are of course teens that Boyd has interacted with that use their knowledge in technology in appropriate and productive ways, there are also teens that are strictly familiar with social media and can not distinguish spam, or the difference between a web browser and the internet.  Because of this, Boyd argues that is dangerous to assume that youth are automatically informed, while it also naive to assume that "digital immigrants" have nothing to offer, etc.

The Emergence of the Digital Native
John Perry Barlow, a renowned poet and cyberlibertarian, positioned those who "come from Cyberspace" in juxtaposition with those before this time, dubbed them the "native" against the "immigrant".  Douglas Rushkoff then argued in his book that children should be recognized for their ingenuity.  On this hand, Rushkoff uses the terms "native" and "immigrant" to celebrate children's development in the digital age.  Boyd challenges both perspectives, saying that both you and adults still have a lot to learn.

 "We live in a technologically mediated world. Being comfortable using technology is increasingly important for everyday activities: obtaining a well-paying job, managing medical care, engaging with government. Rather than assuming that youth have innate technical skills, parents, educators, and policymakers must collectively work to support those who come from different backgrounds and have differ- ent experiences. Educators have an important role to play in helping youth navigate networked publics and the information-rich environ- ments that the internet supports. Familiarity with the latest gadgets or services is often less important than possessing the critical knowl- edge to engage productively with networked situations, including the ability to control how personal information flows and how to look for and interpret accessible information."

 Youth Need New Literacies
Boyd goes on to speak about how youth must become media literate. They need to develop the skills to ask themselves questions about the construction and dissemination of particular media artifacts.   They need to understand the reasoning behind marketing and advertising, and how computer systems work.  It is important for the youth to learn these, rather than how to complete their MySpace layouts, for basic functioning in today's work force and employment.

The Politics of Algorithms
Boyd brings up the example of Wikipedia vs. Google; that Wikipedia is a community source that any one is able to edit, and that most information is from their own beliefs or other sites that are not credible, when Google, on the other hand, continuously alters their algorithms to minimize the efficacy of those trying to manipulate search results.  Algorithms are fundamental to how many computer systems work; it is important to recognize what algorithms are neutral in this case.

  It is important to educate youth on what sites and search engines they should be using and why.  Many students did not actually understand why their teachers did not want them using Wikipedia, for example, or they still used it regardless.  In this case, adults often end up giving teens misleading or inaccurate advice and information about what they see online.

Boyd explains that the problematic frame of the digital native often undermines efforts to celebrate and critically examine how teens do and do not engage with social media.   "I believe that the digital natives rhetoric is worse than inaccurate: it is dangerous. Because of how society has politicized this language, it allows some to eschew responsibility for helping youth and adults navigate a networked world. If we view skills and knowledge as inher- ently generational, then organized efforts to achieve needed forms of literacy are unnecessary. In other words, a focus on today’s youth as digital natives presumes that all we as a society need to do is be patient and wait for a generation of these digital wunderkinds to grow up. A laissez-faire attitude is unlikely to eradicate the inequalities that con- tinue to emerge. Likewise, these attitudes will not empower average youth to be more sophisticated internet participants. " 

Teens are gaining experience and knowledge of technological skills through use of social networking and media, however, they also need the education from adults and "digital immigrants" on how to use such skills and where to apply them appropriately.  Technology will increasingly play an important role in society, therefore it is very important in our youth and future generations. 


  1. Amanda, great blog! It was very informative. I really liked all the pictures you used to enhance your favorite was the ABC one. I totally feel like a "digital immigrant" when I am around my younger cousins and they talk in terms of social media. I see Boyd's point when she talks about how us immigrants need to teach the natives. They are so consumed by the social part of technology and do not understand the many facets of technology...the good and the bad. Like I mentioned in my comments on Michael's blog I wonder if Media will become a part of curriculum especially with the idea of testing being on the computer.

  2. When you said, "there are also teens that are strictly familiar with social media and can not distinguish spam, or the difference between a web browser and the internet" I was immediately reminded of one of my students. The other day, I asked students to use Google Docs to type up their essays. Toward the middle of the class I realized one student was totally off task. What was she doing? She had gotten stuck looking at spam in her gmail inbox and was taking some obscure survey for Publishers Clearing House...yikes!