Digital age: generation conflicts or peaceful coexistence?

web-design-1953129_1920How we are imagining the life without internet?

Do you remember the time when we did not have internet, access to any information you are searching, watching videos whenever we want and from whoever we want, using video conversation functions, etc, etc. How did people survive? How they managed to study, keep in touch, meet each other, how they managed to get news, to read, to shop and whatever one’s fantasy can imagine. Almost not possible to imagine now. At least it looks like people had to be more disciplined, reliable and structured. That’s not about us, or…?

That was close and so long ago at the same time. It was in 1990-s, when Internet started to come into people’s everyday life closely. And since that time, we can say it had changed the way we live completely. Everyone in one way or another is included into the digital network, digital relations. When we want to meet people where we go – net, when we want to take a contact with government institutions, banks, when we are going to travel, out, even going to doctor, you name it.

Do we remember the time when we had to go to the library to get information? How was it? Now it is possible to find anything within seconds or minutes in net (nobody guarantees quality or verification of the information though, but who thinks about it now?). It changes the value of the knowledge, and maybe even definition of the knowledge, but this, probably I’ll leave to a next post.

Digital immigrants and digital natives

At least now existing people, digital immigrants as it was described first in the “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” by John Perry Barlow (1996) and further developed by Marc Prensky (2001). Both positions are, in some degree, idealistic, which was quite natural for that time. “.. a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more human and fair than the world your governments have made before.” (Barlow, 1996). Apparently, until the human nature prevails, the cyberspace will have the same diseases as the real world. Nobody promises that the AI will be better though.

But anyway, already then were pointed out some problems with the digital society, which now are coming into the real life. As Barlow (1996) states, “…there is no matter here.” Nevertheless, what he considers “no matter” in that time, now is actively used and actively interfering into the real society, which he neglected. I mean the whole set of problems connected with so-called shadow, or black internet, creation of crime groups and organizations there, weapon, drug trade, human trafficking and many other. And, if laws towards internet back in 1996 seemed completely overkill, unnatural to the idea of free internet itself, in 2017 it seemed already necessary and vital.

Internet was changing the ways that different generations are divided too. In 1996 (Barlow) and 2001 (Prensky) were explaining existing contradictions by the existence and the conflict of 2 different generations, which were defined as Digital Natives, and Digital Immigrants.

Prensky defines Digital Natives as “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and Internet” and Digital Immigrants as “Those of us who were not born into the digital world” (Prensky, 2001). He points out several differences and further misunderstanding between these 2 generations. But time flies, things change, it is interesting to make a brief analysis of whether these differences are still strong and the problem of misunderstanding between generations based on the factor of time, when they were introduced to the digital world, still exists. It is also interesting to analyze, because the ideas of Prensky were, and, probably, still are influential in some circles.

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Have digital immigrants changed during the time?

Let’s start with the division itself: are there so many “digital immigrants” left in the way that Pense describes them? I would rather doubt, because, who is the most active users of the FB today? We can just have a look at the statistics of the Pew Research Centre.

Table 1. Distribution of age groups – users of the Social Platforms (Pew Research Centre, 2016).

Age group Facebook Instagram Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn
18-29 88 59 36 36 34
30-49 84 33 23 34 33
50-64 72 18 21 28 24
65+ 62 8 10 16 20

 

Snapchat, though, holds as a platform for the younger generation: 37% of users are aged 18-24 and 23% – 13-17 (The Statistics Portal, 2016), that supports the thesis of the Prensky that the digital natives prefer to get information in the graphical form.

As we can see from the data, elder age groups are rather active in some social platforms, especially FB and LinkedIn. They use it not only for publishing pictures, reading updates, but also for communicating within family, or friends. Some are even creating active groups for different backgrounds. So, although with the different pace, but anyway, elder generations are coming into the not being afraid of the data. Even Snapchat attracts more and more people aged over 60.

Social platforms segmentation

Naturally, platforms that different age groups are using – varies, but it is a part of the market segmentation of the social platforms.

When we are talking about differenced between generations in case of their attitude towards digital matters, the biggest is, as I think, another type of thinking (clip-art thinking) which is typical to the digital natives. They are used to getting any information within seconds, information should preferably be in a short form, they are easier with visual perception, switching from one subject/task to another, and are multitasking.

Negative sides of such thinking are: lack of critical thinking and ability to analyze issues (as the pace with which information is coming and changing, does not leave the possibility to think over it).

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Socialization in the digital age

Definition of socialization changes too. What is socialization: adaptation to the real society or to the digital society, or to the both? People are having hundreds or thousands of “friends” or “followers” in social networks, but at they same time they can be very lonely in reality, even being afraid of real communication with people (strangers, or even the one they know).

Hype is replacing trends, people are longing to become famous, to get more likes or shares. It becomes an indication of a success. This type of success is easy to get (buy, earn) and it is extremely addictive. It leads to such side effects as readiness to the most crazy and extreme things and deeds, everything – just to get an attention and hype. It is becoming a problem too: people are dying while making a selfie in the most unusual and crazy places, during the extreme activities. Teenagers group has the highest risk for it.

At the same time, these teenagers are showing the lack of strategical thinking, which, of course is normal for their age group, but anyway, here it is multiplied by usage of social media, which is relatively new from the historical perspective and, therefore, results of its usage are unclear in many cases.

Before posting something, people should evaluate how it can influence their life later (in a year, 5, 10 or even during their lifetime). It is difficult and, sometimes, even impossible. We do not know the system of values that will exist, or will prevail in the future. Even nearest future is unclear, not talking about some longer perspective. Even now more and more often we can see in the news feed that one or another person was suing his/her parents for placing his/her childhood pictures in internet.

Will we see changes in the way we are using social platforms?

No employer will take any applicant to an interview without checking his/her history first, checking all social networks, etc., etc. Even meeting a new person, before going to date for example, people are checking who they are going to deal with. And in any disputable cases will use this information. Is it good or bad? As any side of life, it has 2 sides: positive and negative. It is convenient, but it leaves no room for privacy. But that concerning normal people.

We need to remember that as long with an internet that we are all used to, it exists so-called “black or shadow” net, which has all negativity from the society: crimes, drugs, weapons, human trafficking, cyber crimes and you name it. Should state protect itself and its’ citizens from this? Without no doubt. Has a state instruments to do that? Not yet, and in the nearest future no state will be able to do it. The only way is, probably, to close internet completely. But that’s irrelevant nowadays too.

That shows that there are existing fields, where both generations: digital immigrants and digital natives have a lot to learn: rules of behavior (socially acceptable behavior) in net, security, how it is best to position oneself, how to get an objective feeling of the reality. Here we are coming to some philosophical questions too: who am I? The personality, which exists, the personality, which exists in internet, or both? Where we are real? Where we are the closest to our nature? Do we still need the restrictions, imposed to us by the society, or should we develop as a truly free creature without any social borders? Are we making a huge step back to our animal roots, what will make us different from animals? We are coming up to the whole set of such issues. People are just starting to think it over, trying to understand how our world is changing, how the human society will change. We are just in the beginning of the process.

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Will the concept of digital natives and digital immigrants outdated?

Therefore, we are coming to an interesting question: will the given groups (digitally natives and digitally immigrants) still exist in the next 10-20 years or is it merely temporary division, which gradually be washed away with the disappearance of the older generations? Or it comes some new technologies, which will turn current digital natives into digital immigrants?

Obvious, that both generations will only win, when learn from another generations ability which they are lacking. Cooperation could be also profitable for both as well. Complementing each other is the best strategy, but it’s usually the most difficult to achieve.

So, from the basic description of what internet has brought into our lives we came to a much deeper problem on how Internet will change the way our society is functioning, and how people will deal with the changes it brings. We still do not have the answers for these questions, but the positive thing is that we started to realize that these issues need to be solved and rethought.

 

Literature

Barlow, J.P. (1996). A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.

Greenwood, S., Perrin, A., Duggan, M. (2016). Social Media Update 2016. Pew Research Center, November 2016, “Social Media Update 2016”

Krokan, Arne. (2010) Den digitale økonomien : Om digitale tjenester, forretningsutvikling og forretningsmodeller i det digitale nettsamfunnet. Cappelen Damm Akademisk. 2010. ISBN 978-82-02-31884-0.

Krokan, Arne, Asbjørn Rollstadås, Lars Thomas Dyrhaug (red) 2017. Teknologien endrer samfunnet. Fagbokforlaget.

Krokan, Arne. (2008). Oppvekst i det Digitale Nettsamfunnet.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. From On the Horizon (NCB University Press, Vol.9 No.5, October 2001)

Statista, (2016). Snapchat user demographics: Distribution of Snapchat users in the United States as of February 2016, by age.

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