A digital native discovers the Web

My daughter has finally discovered the joys of the Web. Not surprisingly, her interests have nothing to do with checking email, catching up with the news, blogging, or surfing to other text-based sites -- the stuff that I like to do.

Rather, what's caught her fancy in the past few weeks are sites with visual appeal and entertainment. She plays Curious George games on PBSKids.org and has really latched onto Webkinz World, the kids-oriented virtual world that involves real-world stuffed animals, contact with friends, and the purchase of virtual goods. She also likes watching videos on YouTube, but her younger brother is even more active, locating scores of videos related to roller coasters, model trains, and Lightning McQueen.

These media habits are quite different than those experienced by previous generations. I read books and watched a lot of TV when I was her age, but didn't have real-world interactions with pen pals or shopping until I was a few years older. I didn't experience the Web until I was in my mid-20s. My father also read books as a child, and wrote letters when he reached the middle years of elementary school, but his family didn't have a TV until he was in his early teens. He didn't get home Internet access until 1996.

Both of us, and nearly all of the people reading this article, are so-called "digital immigrants" (or, as John Palfrey and David Weinberger at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society suggest, "digital settlers"). The Web is often an integral part of our lives, but we've learned to live with the Web as adults.

But how will "digital natives" -- those youths who have grown up with the Web from a very early age -- interact with the online world? This question doesn't only involve games, shopping, and chatting with friends. Their approaches to relationships, education and work will be remarkably different, and we will need to adjust our ways to accomodate them.

More information about these topics are available on the Digital Natives project homepage.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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