#thattech Week 1–Who do you want to be?

In the book Born Digital co-authors John Palfrey and Urs Gasser discuss “Digital Natives,” the term they use for children born into the digital world.  They seem to be particularly concerned with the Digital Native’s identity formation and the threats posed with their every move online, throughout social media and virtual worlds.  Although they spend the majority of chapter one arguing this threat, I feel we cannot live a productive life of exploration in fear of doing something wrong or else we will never make new discoveries.

It is human nature to transform throughout many different stages of our life’s journey in discovering ourselves, who we are, and our ultimate identity.  It’s entertaining to look back at celebrities, colleagues, friends, or even family members and reminisce about the different phases they may have gone through as they were defining their identity in the moment (e.g. goth, punk, emo, hippie, etc.).  The authors point out, “the version of the identity of a Digital Native that a given onlooker sees may depend a lot on how the onlooker accesses this morphing, sprawling identity” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2010, p. 35).

Many of us are guilty of sporting silly facial hair-dos, hanging chains from our belt or pants, getting tattoos or body piercings, etc.  Let’s face it, we thought it was cool…at the time!  As an onlooker in both the past and present, it’s imperative to recognize these are all important stages we must take to help uncover who we truly are as individuals.  Whether it’s online or offline, we do things to follow social norms and the internet has only accentuated this form of self-expression.  According to Marc Prensky in his book Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning:

To set the bar truly high and to seek and demand an exceptional level of creativity from students, partnering teachers have to find ways to set students free to do things “their (i.e., the students’) way” much more than we have ever done in the past (p. 154).

We must foster the development of our young people’s identity through experimentation.  How can one learn if they live a “perfect” life?  What is a perfect life?  Palfrey and Gasser point out “the Internet is a virtual laboratory for experiments in identity development” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2010, p. 27).  From the Digital Immigrant’s perspective, this can be a terrifying thought.  In scientific experimental laboratories, mistakes are made all the time.  Cyber laboratories are much the same.  I do agree with Palfrey and Gasser when they mention:

Sometimes, Digital Natives misperceive such spaces as more private than they are. Or they may know very well that the spaces are public and disclose information about themselves anyway, for a range of reasons. But rarely do they have in view the full impact of their decision to disclose this information (p. 35-36).

In a perfect world, we could see clearly through a crystal ball and plan every move we make with a calculated decision.  But unfortunately life is all about taking risks; live and learn.  Hopefully we will not pass judgment on Digital Natives down the road and recognize their actions, words, and pictures were just a phase of their digital life.  They will have since moved on, just like the rest of us, and hopefully together we can laugh about the past.  Don Tapscott notes in his book Grown Up Digital, “what an extraordinary period in human history this is—for the first time the next generation coming of age can teach us how to ready our world for the future” (Tapscott, 2008, p. 8).  Let’s not hold back these Digital Natives, but rather allow them to pave their own path to new discoveries and learn real life lessons.  We can help by modeling responsible digital citizenship, but it will be up to them whether they want to follow through with their actions.


Palfrey, J., & Gasser, Urs. (2010). Born Digital : Understanding the First Generation of               Digital Natives. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Prensky, M. (2010). Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Tapscott, D. (2008). Grown up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World. New York: McGraw-Hill.


4 thoughts on “#thattech Week 1–Who do you want to be?

  1. One of my biggest issues with the way most adults seem to approach adolescents and their online selves–the biggest concern is safety, and their main (and sometimes only) tool is fear. The way Palfrey and Gasser address these issues seems to suggest that the book is written more for parents than for educators. I like to call it “abstinence only” digital citizenship. They want to protect kids from danger, so they basically don’t allow them to do anything fun online (or else the internet will stalk you and hack you up into tiny bits). That works really well if you are able to watch them 100% of the time. Otherwise, the minute that kids are left alone, they will go back to doing what kids instinctively do (learn through play and experimentation).

  2. Thanks for sharing your insights. You made several excellent points. I agree that we need to encourage our kids to explore and discover their world. That’s probably why most of us chose our profession? It has been interesting to watch several new generations invent themselves over the years. Our current generation is so much different than when I was young. The way they communicate, multitask, and problem solve gives me hope for the future. They are a bright bunch of kids. I find that most of my kids are careful when it comes to their digital identity. Their online behavior is very similar to their offline behavior. They have learned how to use technologies for their benefit and amusement and are aware of some of the dangers. When they mess up, it’s not usually a big deal. As you mentioned, all of us are guilty of making foolish decisions. Do parents and educators need to pay attention to what kids are doing online? Absolutely – for the same reason parents and educators need to pay attention to behavior in general. Our job is to help them make responsible decisions and to help them through times when they make mistakes. I encourage kids to dive into technology in order to see what it can do. When a kid comes up to me and tells me they messed up, I gladly listen and help them see how to correct (or live with) the mistake. That’s an important part of an adult/child relationship. I do get concerned, however, when I think about how far mistakes can go in today’s digital domain. A case in point is the 8 Anchorage School District students who were arrested for distributing nude images of local students via instagram. This form of child pornography is going to mark these students for the rest of their lives. In the past, a serious mistake may not have far-reaching repercussions. Today, those repercussions can travel far and wide in an instant. We need to help kids realize that. Not so that we can keep them from trying new things, but to help them realize potential consequences. It’s like telling a child not to touch a hot stove-top. Most kids will understand and will adjust accordingly. There are some who won’t listen and have to find out for themselves. When all is said and done, we can only hope they didn’t get burned too bad. When today’s digital generation grows up, we can only hope that they didn’t get singed too badly as well.

    • It seems to be almost the opposite for me. A lot of the students that I teach are not careful when it comes to their digital identity or someone else digital identity. just this past school year, we had two students(high school students) get into a fight because one students posted an inappropriate comment and photo about the other student. When dealing with this situation the student that posted the photo did not understand that it should not have been posted and needs to be removed.

  3. I agree with your viewpoints. We have managed to teach a generation of youth to not get in a car with strangers offering candy. They know not to open the front door and let just anyone in. They managed to go to the mall, park, roller rink, movies etc. without much hassle. For the net generation, going out online is similar to all the above activities. We can probably train them with the basics:

    “Explore with caution, use with wisdom, express with discretion”

    And I believe most of today’s youth possess the common sense we grew up with (at least comparable). The digital world is a strange unfamiliar place…for me and many of my generation. But not for them, they grew up here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s