It is said that Generation Z (those born from 1995 to 2009) is the first digital native generation. Born into a technological world (at least in the developed world), they have never known a life without the internet or mobile phones. They utilise technology like it’s a part of their DNA and adapt to each new technological advance with breathtaking speed. They are the “switched on” generation.
I am not a digital native. I was born into a house with one television (black and white) and filled my leisure time reading books – the real sort, you know, made of paper. We played Monopoly with a board, on a table. However, we were introduced to technology whenever possible. My all-time favourite birthday present was the 10 in 1 electronics kit I received when I was ten. We were also the proud owners of a Commodore computer that ran games on cassette tapes. Sigh. I really miss that Klingon game.
I have become a technology fluent speaker. I understand the language but it has taken work and effort. Solving problems generally involves trial and error and Google is my best friend. I possess, admittedly, a natural aptitude for technology, a ‘knack’ if you will. Much like gardening, music or spelling, understanding technology is just another skill that either comes easily or it doesn’t. I wouldn’t have a clue when or how to prune a rosebush but I can instinctively work out what may be wrong with my computer. Which means it isn’t necessarily all generation based. I have young friends who know less than I do about technology. It’s not their thing, so it doesn’t come naturally.
However, digital natives do have the advantage. It is understood that the earlier you are introduced to technology, the easier you find it to use and adapt to as you age. So those born into homes of smart phones, tablets, laptops and the internet will accept them as a part of life and use them accordingly.
I am something of a permanent resident. I understand the language, live comfortably in my new home and can happily hang out with the locals. But I will never feel like a native. A part of me will always acknowledge the strangeness of my new country.
Digital natives tend to view we immigrants with a measure of either withering scorn or condescending pity. I live with three digital natives who all have a tendency to treat me like a dim-witted tourist. If I am trying to do something on the computer under their watchful eye, they speak to me in the technological equivalent of “No, you looky. It no go like that. You understand?” I can read the language but like reading any foreign text, I have to read it carefully to determine my next action. So if a dialogue box pops up while I am doing something, I read it, then I know what to do. The digital native can speed read. Faced with the same situation they know in a split second what it means and move on.
It makes me green with envy.
Generation Y has loved to view itself as the technological generation with its iTunes and white earbuds permanently affixed to ears, but the members of Generation Y are in for a rude shock when Generation Z hits the workforce in a few years. Always seen as the young IT experts at work, Gen Y has enjoyed a smug position in the office. Gen Z is on its way to wipe that smug look off Gen Y’s face. Sorry, Gen Y, I guess you won’t be CEO by the time you’re 40 after all.
(Anyone who has done their generational research will be able to determine, from the bitterness in my voice, that I am, of course, Generation X.)
Generation Z should watch out, though. I was sitting in a waiting room the other day watching a two year old play a game on an iPad. Gen Z only has a few years before Generation Alpha is going to wipe the technological floor with them.