Thanks to my fellow student Julie for introducing me to the phrase ‘digital native’ – used as early as 1996 and then popularized by Mark Prensky . Prensky’s view was that there is a distinction between the young ‘digital natives and older people, who he termed ‘Digital Immigrants’ .
“The importance of the distinction is this: As Digital Immigrants learn – like all immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their “accent,” that is, their foot in the past. The “digital immigrant accent” can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather than first, or in reading the manual for a program rather than assuming that the program itself will teach us to use it. Today’s older folk were “socialized” differently from their kids, and are now in the process of learning a new language. And a language learned later in life, scientists tell us, goes into a different part of the brain.” (M. Prensky 2001).
According to this piece there are also ‘Digital Settlers’ – those there at the start and ‘Digital Immigrants’ who learned how to use e-mail and social networks late in life..
Prensky’s view was that young “digital natives’” brains have physically changed as a result of the digital revolution. I know much has been written about the negative effects of the digital revolution on young minds – unable to spell; short attention spans; needing information in short bites only;, unable to engage in a group because they are always checking their phones and shutting themselves off from ‘normal’ human intercourse; cyber-bullying etc. There are positives though, many children and adolescents learn to balance their use of digital media with both physical and interpersonal activities. One study, ”A Day in the Digital Life of Teenagers” spent a year of fieldwork looking at the lives of 28 teenagers and the researcher was encouraged by how well they managed digital devices and content and concluded that these have become teenagers’ way of ‘asserting their agency’.
My eight year old grandson, a ‘digital native’ born into the age of digital – deep into the world of ‘Minecraft’. What I really noticed was, whereas I could only pretty much see large, blurry pixels, he was very engaged in building a world for himself; a non-competitive world at that, Whereas I would need an image, a sentence of description in a book – even a word, written or spoken, his brain has learned to build a world using a few pixels. From there he will often move to his lego collections, building scenarios, creating animated videos. His use of the digital world is just one of his many other activities.
Photographer Wendy McMurdo’s project used photography, film and moving image to explore how the use of online building games impacted on identity formation in children and ‘to bring together the invisible world of data with the concrete world of ‘things’, through merging photography and 3D rendering techniques. I’ve kept thinking about ‘Minecraft’ and how, to me, those pixel blocks provide an external, visual representation of the networking of our brain cells as they manipulate data to form ideas and constructs. This reminds me of the theories of Marshall McCluhan in the 1960s and his writing on the effect of printing on the way people perceived their world.
McMurdo’s book The Skater (2009) was the outcome of a commission she was awarded by Ffotogallery to mark their 30th anniversary and she drew inspiration from a painting by Sir Henry Raeburn, Rev Walker Skating on Duddington Loch, 1784, to explore the theme of the way in which young skaters are used as models for realistic computer aided avatars., “I wanted to explore the more immersive environment of gaming for teenagers with the emphasis on highly developed role-play and interactions with virtual environments” (W. McMurdo (2009: 42) The project included exploration of the adolescent gamers themselves with portraits of them at play and a parallel film The Loop (in collaboration with filmmaker Paul Holmes) utilising split screens to follow a young girl as the mirrors the movements of a young figure skater on an adjacent screen.
A recent Aeon article refers to ’the extended mind’ whereby memories, thoughts, perceptions extend beyond the body to algorithmically mediated objects, databases and networks”. Our brains adapt just as they adapt to reading the symbols that comprise the alphabet, or music, or, in my case, learning shorthand. I don’t think of it as one thing or another but as an accretion of knowledge and skill. Simon Jenkins wrote an article in The Guardian (2 Feb 2017) noting that sales of old-fashioned vinyl records have soared to a 25 year peak (I should add that we have some and they are digitally re-mastered to provide enhanced sound), printed books are recovering ground from e-readers, plus there is more questioning of the negative effects of the internet. Jenkins suggests that we are now heading for ‘post-digital’, employing new technology as a servant and not as a master.
I was born into a world where few people had telephones and there was no television. News was from the radio, newspapers or Pathe News at cinema visits – obviously old. I consider myself to be a ‘digital settler’ being there at the start of the digital revolution and welcoming computers – maybe because I already knew how to type with all my fingers! Also, to my mind, it maybe isn’t so much of an ‘age’ thing but the degree of aptitude/orientation, i.e. some people are better at reading maps than others because their spatial skills are more developed. I’m writing this in hope because I still can’t follow those pixel blocks in ‘Minecraft’, let alone work my way building a website – yet!