Last night I was lucky enough to attend the launch of the Post-Digital Art School report by Charlotte Webb and Fred Deakin, but beyond being impressed, I was also shaken by something Fred said about his experience of working with ‘digital native’ students.
Basically – and this is in no way verbatim – any idea that ‘digital native’ means proficient and well versed with technology is far from the truth, and in fact, a digital native could be as naive and ignorant about the opportunities and abilities of tech as an average Generation Xer.
Perhaps this is more about my definition of ‘digital native’ being wrong, but it struck a chord with a memory from teaching 18 year olds around 2008. I observed that most of them could hardly use a memory stick or relate to the desktop metaphors of files, folders and drag and drop. At the time I rudely thought that perhaps they were just PC users and so more the “C: drive right click copy paste to D: drive” sorts, but I’m realising now that they too were perhaps theoretically digital native, just not technically so, at least to the level I expected.
Luckily, in mentioning this worry to Fred, he pointed to Appendix Three of the report where he lists four levels of creative digital engagement, and the suggestion that ‘digital native’ is a broader and more useful term than I was giving it credit:
Level One: Digital Consumer
This is the core functionality of the internet and the default mode for the most of our digital activity, which is basically passive…
The current ‘average user’ state. A native of digital consumption.
Level Two: Digital Creators
When we operate in this level we are generating relatively complex online content ourselves and using various off-the-shelf tools to do so…. But we don’t have to create our own website at this level: we can use platforms such as Etsy to operate commercially or use our old friends Facebook and Twitter in a more pro-active and less social way….
CMS users or bloggers and regular Tweeters.
Level Three: Digital Collaborators
If you are part of [a multi-disciplinary team… that incorporates strategy, design, technology psychology and other skills] and you are no primarily responsible for the technology portion of the project they you are operating at the level of digital collaborator. It will be important that you understand how digital technology works… Using IDEO’s ’T-shaped designer’ model, you need to have a basic understanding of coding / programming / technology as part of your horizontal cross-bar, even though it won’t be the deep understanding of the specialism represented by your personal T’s vertical bar.
A digital agency or product team (an awkward level where individuals often believe they are just ‘average users’ and they lose sight of, and empathy for, the levels below them).
Level Four: Digital Constructors
Operating at this level we can build complex digital resources from scratch: We are comfortable grappling with various aspects of emerging technology and have no issues ‘going under the hood’ to write and optimise code.This level retunes to a more solo mode of operation after the collaborative nature of level three.
Where I was daftly imagining most ‘digital natives’ might somehow naturally exist. Born with basic HTML skills like so many British people used to be born knowing Beatles lyrics.
Anyway, if not personally useful for better definition of ‘digital native’ I think there’s great benefit to identifying these levels when working on digital projects with and for other people. Especially in cases where a client or boss is actually at Level One, and finding it hard to work with and relate to those at Levels Three and Four.