Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Millennials, and Gen Xers are common terms bandied about to describe technology consumers, but do these groups comprise a culture? One is hard pressed to find a document concerning technology users that does not contain at least one of these terms to describe a group and how they interact and conduct themselves. According to the 2001 article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants by Mark Prensky, students of the day had spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, cell phones, and such. The supposition of many is those born in the last 25 years or so have been entrenched in technology from birth. Granted, there are those who meet this description, but does this apply to all or are we painting everyone with our own digital culture paintbrush?
To know what digital culture is, we first need a working definition. Culture is a specific group’s way of life –their beliefs and values. Digital culture is the infusion of the Internet, mobile technology, and other tech tools – the digitization of our daily work, leisure, social and political lives. Rab takes this even a step further stating that it also includes the digitization of existing cultural elements (2007). A premise of being a digital native is the members are using digitalized technology as an integral part of their daily lives. If you take into account those affected by the digital divide, the separation of those that have ready access to technology and those who do not, it implies that all people of a certain age would have a “digitized” life. There is the presumption that everyone would utilize technology as part of his or her daily lives if it were readily accessible.
This is the mindset we are trained to have, and I am not the exception. It seems as if I was always hitting my head against the proverbial wall trying to figure out how to get my students caught up to their counterparts – who are leaps and bounds more digitally literate. I kept thinking it was the digital divide that stood between us, since I work with Title I schools. Then while conversing with a fellow educator, who also comes from a diverse educational background, I had an epiphany! It wasn’t so much the digital divide as a cultural difference that was the issue. I work with students whose culture values face-to-face interactions and oral traditions. Then I realized it wasn’t just my students. I got to thinking about a couple I know and the role technology plays in their daily lives. One is a doctor and the other a professional who has a home office. On the surface people would think their children would have technology resources readily available. However, they have selected not to have TV, computers, or such as part of their children’s daily lives. The children’s only access to technology is at school. These children are not deprived; they are just being raised with different standards, and they are not alone.
The current pervasive techno-centric belief system of the mainstream does not seem to take into account personal choice or others’ cultural values in regards to the use of technology. How do we relate to these students? Do we apply the digital divide principle when a person whose cultural base or belief system does not put an emphasis on the inclusion technology into everyday activities? Take for example an Amish family or a group who put more emphasis on oral traditions and personal connections. Do we treat them as if they are educationally deprived, because they are not entrenched in social media? I think we need to get past using one technology brush, because it isn’t about ethnicity, socioeconomic divisions, or even geography. I am talking about those who have opted to limit the control or importance technology has in their lives. It is time to stop imposing our technology values and beliefs on these people. It comes down to how do we respect cultural values while preparing students for college or a career that may require digital literacy.