Learning Curves dryly observes that her students, “digital natives” all, are in fact clueless about navigating the digital world.

This is a good question about Digital Natives. What does the word “native” really mean? Is there another parallel where “native” means incapable of using the basic tools or even knowing they exist? Is it possible that people are using “native” in the imperial/colonial sense of “ignorant and uncivilized”? Okay, I’m joking about that one (kinda).

The general attitude from professors, including me, is that “digital native” is simply a grand delusion, applied unthinkingly to anyone young, and often that student laziness and entitlement override any sort of digital proficiency. Or that students are digitally illiterate, like those unable to order without pictures on the menu.

The “lazy” meme has been done to death, so let’s not go there. Are these types of things actually equivalent to illiteracy? I’m wondering whether a certain degree of ignorance is actually part of being native—that is, having grown up with something, there is no need to acquire real fluency in it. For instance, do these examples of student incompetency reasonably parallel to the famed American ignorance of basic civics? (Of course, I don’t really need to know what the President does to navigate my everyday life.) Or should students be able to manage the web the way New Yorkers can navigate the buses and subways? I’m looking for an accurate comparison that might help us figure out what it really means to be “native”.

See also: Paragraph City, Digital Native vs. Lazy and Dull