Wednesday, March 3, 2010

New Study Highlights Superficiality of Digital Native Concept

One of our main criticisms of the digital native or net generation discourse is that presents a simplistic and superficial picture of an entire generation and ignores the complexity of technology use and its relationship to context. Eszter Hargittai has published an interesting study that reveals some of this complexity and provides compelling evidence for why we need to take a more nuanced approach to research in this area. Hargittai's study concludes that the premise that the net generation are universally knowledgeable about the web is not supported by the data, "rather, we observe systematic variation in online know-how even among a highly wired group of young adults based on user background...Overall, the results of this study show support for the importance of taking a more nuanced approach to studying the relationship of Internet use to social inequality. Far from being simply dependent on mere access, systematic differences are present in how people incorporate digital media into their lives even when we control for basic connectivity. Moreover, these differences hold even among a group of college students, precisely the type of population that popular rhetoric assumes to be universally wired and digitally savvy. These assumptions are not supported by the evidence, however.

Read the full article.


People who have grown up with digital media are often assumed to be universally savvy with information and communication technologies. Such assumptions are rarely grounded in empirical evidence, however. This article draws on unique data with information about a diverse group of young adults’ Internet uses and skills to suggest that even when controlling for Internet access and experiences, people differ in their online abilities and activities. Additionally, findings suggest that Internet know-how is not randomly distributed among the population, rather, higher levels of parental education, being a male, and being white or Asian American are associated with higher levels of Web-use skill. These user characteristics are also related to the extent to which young adults engage in diverse types of online activities. Moreover, skill itself is positively associated with types of uses. Overall, these findings suggest that even when controlling for basic Internet access, among a group of young adults, socioeconomic status is an important predictor of how people are incorporating the Web into their everyday lives with those from more privileged backgrounds using it in more informed ways for a larger number of activities.

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