calling bullshit,  Dad,  digital implications

The pseudo digital-natives argument

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When I did my degree in Psychology I remember a lecturer dismissing lots of theories of cognition as a ‘pseudo-homunculus” explanation. The homunculus explanations of psychology posited a little person sitting inside, driving your actions (think Inside Out). Of course, this was debunked hundreds of years ago, but a pseudo-homunculus explanation was one that went so far and then almost implied a little person. For example, theories of perception that posited a projection of the external world as if it was a cinema screen inside the head. It didn’t explain how that then led to action.

I was thinking about this with ed tech presentations. The digital natives myth has long been debunked, like the homunculus, but what we have are often pseudo-digital native explanations. I joked on twitter that we should ban presenters from talking about their children’s use of technology. I don’t really want to ban it (before people start telling me why a ban would be a bad idea), and I think sometimes it is used to effectively make a point. But often the deployment of these anecdotes (or videos even) is to sneak some pseudo-digital native juice in, without being derided for such. “Look, my daughter uses the ipad in a totally different way to me, we need to be ready for these kids in university” is often the implicit or explicit message. I blogged a while ago that there is something appealing about the digital natives idea, people want it to be true, and so it finds new ways to reassert itself. So when you hear a “my kids” anecdote in a presentation, I just ask you to do a pseudo digital natives check. Stay vigilant people.


  • Kathrine Jensen

    I agree that we do need to stay vigilant about ‘digital natives’ because I see it as a practice of ‘othering’ where people in a position of power construct an identity which portrays someone or something as fundamentally different or alien. Although the idea of ‘digital natives’ appear to offer leverage to ‘young people’ it is really a category constructed in opposition to the idea of ‘Us’ thus very unhelpfully reducing complex socio-cultural practices and identities and ignoring differences and actual practices.

    But really you should all go read Donna Lanclos post ‘How I learned to Stop Worrying about Digital Natives and love V&R’ –

    • admin

      Hi Kathrine – yes, I’d forgotten Donna’s post (how could I?). I find it interesting the way the idea keeps coming back in slightly different guises. It shows that it has a strong natural appeal.

  • johnbaglow

    I tend to agree with you here. It is an example of lazy stereotyping to lump whole generations together as if they were all clones of each other. It reminds me of Knowles and his andragogy/ pedagogy argument, which seemed to imply that young learners all needed to have learned rammed into them, whereas older learners magically became self-motivating. Not my experience!

  • Heather

    Hi there,
    Interesting discussion! I am conducting research at the moment into a new concept I have created called Digital Apprehension and I tend to agree with all your sentiments. Even some of the comments from some of my study participants intimate that because they are young, it is expected of them to be totally up with everything, when it’s not always the case. To the point where peoples insistence of the digital native cohort existence, has created the digital native cohort.

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