Haley Ben Moshe
13 December 2018
Danah Boyd is a technology and social media scholar, as well as the author of “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens”. The chapter “Are Today’s Youth Digital Natives?” from her text provides many compelling assertions about teens today and their abilities to use advancing technology since being born into a world of digital age. This world of digital age is created on the basis of smartphones being possessed by almost everyone, computers, laptops, and tablets present in almost every household, and especially the advanced operating systems installed in these devices. Boyd brings forth the term “digital native” and creates an argument surrounding that idea. In this essay, I will analyze some of Boyd’s main claims as well as how outside sources support her ideas.
As Boyd presents the idea of digital natives in her chapter, she explores the implications of the term and also establishes the idea that children, teens, and young adults today are born into a world of a digital age. This term creates the image of the entire youth population having the same equal access to digital resources, knowledge, and devices. Digital natives essentially underlies that all of today’s youth are instinctually proficient in the use of technology, as well as wise within judging digital media. Boyd also puts forth the idea that the digital skills of the new generation seems to be lacking compared to those of individuals with much greater access to technology, thus creating a digital divide. She notes “Because teens grew up in a world in which the internet has always existed, many adults assume that youth automatically understand new technologies” (176). Boyd explores the myths associated with this term.
Boyd also asserts the idea as to why the term digital natives is problematic. Using this term as a label prevents any technological growth as well as media skills that today’s youth actually needs. It masks the digital divide between youth with very little access to technology and those will strong technological skills and access. Boyd also asserts that just because much of today’s youth uses these technological devices daily, it does not mean they are aware of the paramount practices or how to interpret or analyze the information they see. Boyd asserts, “Talking about youth as digital natives implies that there is a world which these young people all share and a body of knowledge they have all mastered, rather than seeing the online world as a unfamiliar and uncertain for all of us” (192). Another aspect of the issues with using such a term is that many individuals come from different socioeconomic statuses. She notes that those with higher statuses seem to be the most engaged online, while those with different backgrounds struggle to gain access as well as the skills for the world of digital media. Boyd’s main claims can be extended by the YouTube video by PBS Ideal Channel titled “Do Digital Natives Exist?”. The speaker in the video states, “No one is born a native speaker of digital in the same way that no one is born a native speaker of any language”. This quote supports Boyd’s claim because it gives a sort of realization that no one is born with these digital abilities. Boyd inserts “I interviewed teens who used programming scripts to build complex websites. I also talked with teens who didn’t literally know the difference between a web browser and the internet” (pg 176). This serves as basic evidence to help debunk the myths of digital nativity. The PBS video goes into detail as well as provides examples as to why there cannot be such a thing as a digital native. The idea that instincts are something we are just born with has been disproven through sociological as well as psychological lenses. This secondary source also serves to prove why the terms “digital natives” and “digital literacy” is problematic because it creates unavoidable assumptions that are extremely misleading. Companies today could potentially hire today’s youth now or even in the future and expect them to comprehend and use the rapidly progressing technology being used each day. This alone can be harmful for companies and put today’s youth at risk for unemployment due to their lack of digital knowledge.
Digital inequality is a real issue that many face in today’s society. The fact that many do not have access to these types of devices proves a digital divide is real, and leaves some with an advantage in the workforce. It also would not be fair that one qualified individual would receive a job over another simply because one had been exposed to technology growing up while the other was not fortunate enough to due to differing socioeconomic backgrounds.This also serves as a problem in a college campus setting. Professors expect all students to have laptops or access to a computer in order to do most if not all assignments and submit them online. It is rare nowadays to have a paper textbook or turn in an essay written by hand. Almost everything is typed using computer programs that take time to learn how to use. It also serves as a divide for those who cannot afford laptops or computers or gain access to one for extended periods of time. The PBS YouTube video provides these underlying implications that not everyone innately knows how to use technology just because they were born into a digital age. Many college students who did not grow up with constant exposure and access to technology can face drastic consequences over factors they cannot control due to the assumptions made by professors. One student could face a failing grade for not turning in an assignment online correctly because they have had very little technological experience which is unjust. It is not fair that other students who submit mediocre work get credit while others get none at all because they were never taught or learned how to use these types of online programs. The idea of the digital native as a label for today’s youth serves and a disservice to what they are truly capable of, as well as creating a digital divide between those with and without access to today’s technology.
It becomes difficult to understand what the term digital native is definitively as more problems arise with the term. Boyd believes that in today’s world, kids and teens need to be able to “understand the biases in advertising, whether the ads are disseminated inline or through more traditional media. But in a digitally saturated society, media literacy is only the first step” (182). From my own personal experience, I believe that Boyd’s belief is accurate. There are so many fake news websites taking over the internet each and everyday. These websites are relaying false information that do more harm than good. The idea that kids these days should be taught media literacy is extremely important to protect them from receiving and believing falsified information. Skills such as fact checking, reverse image searching, and staying away from potentially dangerous, misleading online advertisements. The internet today is filled with fraudulent companies looking to steal identities or information, and especially make money regardless of what they have to do in order to accumulate those things. I have witnessed websites that appear to be providing news, yet end up trying to either sell you something or give you ridiculously false information. In the world of politics, fake news is more prevalent than ever. Companies produce several different websites that portray extremist beliefs on both ends of the political spectrum in order to gain business and money regardless of how wrong the information and the act is. For example, the website “BlackMattersUS.com” is one of the few websites still up that was created by Russian operatives stemming from the 2016 election season. This website is filled with extremist opinions, created to stir controversy and create anger amongst African-Americans to persuade their votes in the election. With articles headlines such as “Modern Day Lynching” and “White Teachers Re-Enact Slavery, Act As Ship Captains, Duct Tape Students’ Wrists”, people are immediately drawn in and begin to believe the information in these articles even though it is completely false, and written by individuals who live thousands of miles away. As the election died down, so did the activity on the website as there hasn’t been a post since mid 2017. This timeline of their posting serves as even more proof that it was created to simply persuade and manipulate the American people into believing false information. The importance of digital literacy can prevent the spread of these fake news articles and false information from reaching the public and creating an even larger social and political divide.
Boyd also poses solutions, but they are quite basic and lack a deeper explanation and how to go about fixing these issues. For instance, she claims “Rather than assuming that youth have innate technical skills, parents, educators, and policymakers must collectively work to support those who come from different backgrounds and have different experiences (180). She is essentially stating that digital literacy can become a skill much of today’s youth can acquire more easily through the instruction of older authority figures. Boyd also touches on the idea of fixing the digital divide, and how instructors in schools are best fitted for closing this divide. Schools and places of learning are probably the places children can be easily gain exposure to technology and the internet. However, she does not provide specifics or ideas as to how to close this divide through the school system, or how to help schools acquire more technological devices. Boyd’s argument could have been much stronger had she added specifics in regards to eliminating the myths of digital nativity in society as well as closing the digital divide that is present. For instance, in what ways does Boyd think that school systems should implement teaching the skills of identifying fake news or other forms of manipulation present on the internet? Should it be a part of English classes, or should there be a whole separate class related to learning computer programs and acquiring these skills? How can we make sure all schools have the technology needed to perform these tasks? How will some of the less fortunate schools gain the money for that, as well as the electricity costs, plus the costs of downloading programs and installing new software every so often? There are many specific questions that were not answered in Boyd’s solutions that could have mader her argument much stronger. Her lack of detail in her solutions does not make them very convincing. I do, however, agree with Boyd in the notion that today’s youth should be better equipped with digital literacy and knowledge about technology and the internet. Fake news is everywhere and spreading more and more each day, so it is only beneficial that today’s youth be taught how to spot and avoid those websites. I personally was taught about fake news very briefly in school only during my senior year of high school in an elective course. Overall, I had to figure out how to identify false information and inaccurate posts for myself. If schools today offered a course or focused on identifying what is real and what is not in the technological world from a young age, I would be less inclined to believe false information that I see on the internet and social media every single day. Just like many tweens, teens, and young adults today, I have found myself coming across and believing incorrect news stories almost daily. Boyd’s idea that individuals of all ages should have the tools and skills necessary to sort out the truth from the lies on the internet is noted to better help our world today and for future generations. If today’s youth is better equipped with the knowledge needed for these tasks, they will be less inclined to believe and spread any fake news that comes their way, and could potentially help reduce misunderstandings and the great divide our nation is facing.
In the chapter “Are Today’s Youth Digital Natives?” of her text, Danah Boyd makes valid claims that deserve attention, such as negating the idea that all of today’s youth are digital natives. Boyd’s overarching argument includes that the term “digital natives” masks the lack of in-depth knowledge that teens today actually have, but her solutions relating to solving these social issues such as the digital divide do not serve as helpful or expanding on how to act on fixing these issues. Overall, Boyd portrays a compelling argument that aligns with many in today’s world.
Boyd, Danah. Are Today’s Youth Digital Natives? 2014.
Channel, PBS Idea, director. Do Digital Natives Exist? YouTube, YouTube, 11 Dec. 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WVKBAqjHiE.