Is the ‘Digital Native’ a Mythical Creature?

Is the ‘Digital Native’ a Mythical Creature?

Conventional wisdom holds that younger millennials and members of “Generation Z,” the oldest of whom are just entering the workforce, are “digital natives” who have never known a world without home computers, the Internet, and other commonplace digital technology. As such, it is often assumed that these “natives” have a different relationship to these technologies than those of us who had to learn to use them as adults (or as teenagers, in the case of “old millennials”). Digital natives expect technology to touch every aspect of their lives and to work seamlessly, the wisdom holds, and become frustrated when it doesn’t conform to their expectations. They are also understood to be more comfortable with digital multitasking.

However, a paper published recently in the journal Teaching and Teacher Education calls the entire narrative of the digital native into question, mustering “scientific evidence showing that there is no such thing as a digital native who is information-skilled simply because (s)he has never known a world that was not digital,” according to its abstract:

It then proceeds to present evidence that one of the alleged abilities of students in this generation, the ability to multitask, does not exist and that designing education that assumes the presence of this ability hinders rather than helps learning. The article concludes by elaborating on possible implications of this for education/educational policy.

The paper comes to our attention by way of an editorial at Nature, whose authors point out that educators and employers alike may be over-investing in solutions targeted to digital natives whose needs may not be all that unique after all:

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When it Comes to Tech Talent, Digital Companies Have a Native Advantage

When it Comes to Tech Talent, Digital Companies Have a Native Advantage

Perhaps the main reason why the market for digital talent is so competitive is that today, nearly every organization needs employees with digital skills. Some employers, however, may have an edge when it comes to recruiting the digital

At Fast Company, Maureen Mullen, chief strategy officer and cofounder of the business intelligence firm L2, reviews her firm’s research, which shows that companies “that have always lived and breathed digital technology”—she calls them “digital natives”—”are sucking up top-notch tech talent, leaving everyone else to pick over the scraps”:

Take Nike for instance. It’s regularly ranked as one of the best companies to work for, and it’s consistently more popular than other top consumer brands like L’Oréal, P&G, and LVMH. But Nike’s popularity still pales in comparison to digitally native technology companies. Searches for Amazon, Facebook, or Google “jobs” outpace searches for “Nike jobs” by an order of magnitude.

In fact, it appears there’s already been an exodus of digital talent from agencies to digital-native companies. WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, and Interpublic Group bleed talent to Facebook and Google. Based on L2’s analysis of LinkedIn data, the two tech giants employ 2,227 people who have worked at WPP, while WPP has only attracted around 124 former Facebook or Google employees—a net loss of over 2,100 people.

How can everyone else compete with the natural-born tech innovators? She points to some strategies “traditional” employers have used to poach employees from the Googles and Facebooks of the world, such as opening locations near existing tech hubs, or targeting recruitment toward employees of specific firms, but overall, she concludes, it’s getting harder to lure tech talent away from from the digital natives.