The silent rise of the Digital Native

Posted by Prasad Krishna at Oct 06, 2010 12:10 PM |
In late August, this year, the world shook for many when they went online (on their computers, PDAs, iPads, laptops) and realised that the comfortable zone of talking, chatting, sharing and doing just about everything else, had suddenly, without a warning, changed overnight (or afternoon, or morning, depending upon the time-zone they lived in). With a single change in its privacy and location settings, Facebook, home to billions of internet hours consisting of relationships, friendships, professional networks, social gaming, entertainment trivia, memories and exchanges, allowed its users to geo-tag themselves when on-the-move.

Much energy, rumour and panic has gone into the introduction of this feature. The interweb has been abuzz with people wearing tin-foil hats (or the digital equivalent of it) and shouting as loud as they can, about the old paranoia of Big Brother in new settings like Facebook. It is of almost no consequence that the feature is not really indulging in any private tracking but was offering an interesting mix of bringing together the everyday physicality of life on to the Facebook feed.

Geo-tagging, a term which refers to your ability to expose your location (voluntarily) using mapping visualisation tools that can triangulate your position using GPS or IP address systems, while accessing internet platforms or games, is being widely used by users of technology who enjoy blurring the lines between real life and virtual reality.

Facebook’s Places feature allowed users, accessing Facebook from their mobile phones, to ‘check-in’ to places near them, calculated on the position of their mobile phones, thus making it available for them to share where they are (or were) with their friends. While the panicwallahs who were going blue in their face have started breathing again, there is something in this panic about being located and marked, that needs further probing. I am aware of the possibilities of abuse it might lend itself to, if, say, for instance, I had stalkers (I have none, though), or if somebody accusing me of stealing their pig and my lawyer can prove that I (or at least my phone) was in a particular location at the time the crime was being committed.

To many, this might seem some sort of an exaggerated reaction. How can people be so interested in trivial things like these? How can people have time to actually be doing ‘all this stuff’? To those digitally dissonant I offer a tilt of the head but to the Digital Natives who occupy, seamlessly, their social networking sites, their everyday material life, their MMORPGs (games, in shorthand), their blogs, their photo accounts and their multiple distributed digital selves, these things are important.

You might not have heard of the phrase Digital Natives, but they are here and among us. The generation that grew up with digital technologies as a part of their social (and in some case, biological) DNA relate to technologies differently. Rather than external prostheses or tools of function, technologies are their ways of being.

The oldest Digital Native has turned 30 this year, and the youngest Digital Native is still gestating, visible only in sonograms and medical records that document its presence. Digital Natives are everywhere and they might be producing knowledge that you and I read off Wikipedia. They might be playing games and immersing themselves in fantasy universes. They might be forming communities that transcend geographies and lifestyles. They might be orchestrating political campaigns that affect the fates of nations. They might be changing the notions of ownership and property even as we read this. They are embroiled in new technologies, they move from the physical to the virtual with effortless ease. They are slowly but relentlessly changing the contours of the worlds we all occupy. Digital Natives are here to stay and it is time we start listening to them, about who they are, what they do, how they think of themselves and how they are shaping the futures of the days to come.

Read the original in Daily News and Analysis

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