The “Digital Native,” a Profitable Myth

Reblogged from The Baffler by Jathan Sadowski 

Technology buzzwords, although annoying, often seem innocuous enough. They’re just catchy and trite enough to bleed into common usage, but just misleading and obfuscatory enough as to discourage deep analysis. Two of the most widespread buzzwords and phrases to escape the tech world and infiltrate our general lexicon are the couplet “digital native” and “digital immigrant.”

Unlike many buzzwords that buttress the latest, supposedly world saving, innovations, their origins—and the definitions that have stuck with them—can be clearly traced to one point: A 2001 article written by the education consultant Marc Prensky. The article exists only to coin these dichotomous labels. And based on the article’s astronomically high number of citations—8,748 and growing, as indexed by Google, upon my latest check—it’s safe to say Prensky succeeded.

According to Prensky, the arrival of digital technologies marked a “singularity” that changes everything so “fundamentally” that there’s “absolutely” no turning back. This singularity has caused a schism in the population, especially in Prensky’s area of concern, the realm of education reform.

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