Who are the technology natives?

From Downes’, I read Tuttle SVC objection to Mark Prensky’s interview where he claims that 20 years ago, intellectually, life was boring. Here’s the gist of Tuttle SVC’s message:

I am thirty six, and I AM A DIGITAL NATIVE. I know you baby boomers have a hard time coping with this concept because it is a threat to your authority, and as a result you seem to be constantly reinventing the concept so that it can’t be applied to any actual adults who can compete with you professionally, but I’ve had it, and I’m calling bullshit.

It is quite a punch and I’ve got to agree with Tuttle SVC. It is true that 20 years ago, we didn’t have the web. The world was a big place and unless you were very rich, you were disconnected from it: small town libraries only bring you so far. On the other hand, we were playing video games, and I was learning to program in Basic, Assembler and Fortran.

So, am I a tech native? You bet. I knew how to program a computer when I was thirteen. Hey! I had my very own computer when I was thirteen! A TRS-80 with 32 KB of RAM. No kidding. My friend Eric, living two houses from me, had a VIC-20 with much less memory, but he had much cooler games.

the vic20

a trs-80

Now, Eric is a software developer and I am a Computer Science professor. Are we tech. natives??? You bet!

Not so many kids these days can put together a video game the way I did. Yet, I programmed several (bad) programs (mostly small games) when I was young.

Am I an Internet/web native? No. I learned about the Internet pretty much when I was in college. And even back then, BBS were much cooler in my mind. However, the web is constantly changing. The web in 2001 was very different from the web in 1998… so, maybe a kid who was 13 in 2001 could qualify as a web native, but the kid is only 16 now. He will enter university soon. I expect him to challenge the classroom and expect a lot of web content. I expect him to look for online courses. So what?

The tech. revolution probably happened with Apple. That’s circa 1971. Any kid who was 10 when the Apple II was released (1977) probably qualify as a tech. native, and that’s any kid born after 1966. Baby boomers were borned before 1960, so we could say that the tech. natives are the kids borned after the baby boomers.

The tech. natives have been around for a long time. They’ve been struggling for jobs for quite some time now. They are not just arriving in your local school.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

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