Who are Digital Natives? According to an accepted definition, they are people born after 1980. Some of them are as young as 1-1/2 years old! In 1983, the first cell phone was introduced–they were 3 then! As we build services for them, we must keep in mind that they have always been surrounded by technology.
The first Web was built on “Find”, now it’s built on connecting and access. Engagement is critical; it won the election of 2008. Lots of people are still chasing information instead of learning how to get it to come to them. If you’re not using social media, you are still stuck back in the “Find” era.
Here are 9 Realities of Digital Natives:
- They have an online identity and it’s how they assert their authority online. Social networks are where they are leaving their footprints.
- Creativity is very important to Digital Natives. They want to leave their imprint and are “cultural consumers”. Creativity fuels their self-expression, which explains why remixing content is so important to them.
- Quality of information is crucial to the functioning of an information society built on digital natives. Social responsibility is part of quality. We must learn how to shape our information to enable it to travel easily over the networks. Even Encyclopedia Britannica has recognized that there are advanatage of socially editing information, and it has launched a wiki.
- Safety. Digital Natives have grown up in a physical world that is perceived to be safe, but there is a paranoia that the Web very unsafe. But a recent National School Board study has shown that less than 0.1% have met someone they met online. Digital Natives are smart and have been taught to exercise safe practices online.
- Opportunity. Every day the Internet becomes more important for society. There are no barriers for Digital Natives; the playing field has been leveled. They have a huge sandbox to play in! You can edit videos, make mashups, etc., and all you need is a computer and access. Our libraries provide that.
- Piracy. The world of Digital Natives is based on sharing, so what we may call piracy is regarded as sharing. Only 3% of Digital Natives believe that sharing is criminal and should be punished. Remix contests are springing up; Creative Commons has encouraged content use. You are no longer known by what you own, but by what you share.
- Privacy. Is there any such thing in the digital world? If your library isn’t paying to social networks, that should be a wakeup call! “Lifestreaming” is a new trend–Digital Natives can trace their life history online. Maybe librarians should become “lifebrarians”!
- Advocacy. Online voices can be an advocate and can create leadership potential.
What does this mean for libraries? Young minds, virtual users, and power users lead to enhanced opportunities to read and grow, connected individuals and communities, and wildly enthusiastic users. Customers must connect with library staff, services, and each other in meaningful ways. Blowers said that at the Columbus, OH Metropolitan Library, where she is Digital Strategy Director, strategies of engagement, enrichment, and empowerment form the framework in defining new services for users.
What’s a great birthday present for a Digital Native? Buy them their own domain name!
Helene’s slides are on Slideshare.
Columnist, Information Today and CIL 2009 Blog Coordinator