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.