Previously, I've posted about Digital Natives, (here and here) mostly in terms of how unschooling is pretty much the most ideal way to approach the sticky problem of trying to be an authority to someone who can look up your sources faster than you can.
It did not occur to me, until I was sitting in a room with about 40 other corporate web content delivery professionals (a set of Kiss-of-Death adjectives if ever there were), at a recent gathering for sharing of information about using multimedia on websites, how thoroughly our assumptions are informed by the schooling we got. The point was to familiarize people with the technologies available, and give them some ideas for how to use them.
So how come, I'm sitting there wondering, less than 1/4 of the presentations actually used multimedia? See, corporate folks? Their attention is on keeping their jobs, and looking good for their management. Sort of like how kids in school want to impress the teacher. More and more, I'm convinced that they don't actually participate in the web beyond what's required in their daily work, the same way that schooled kids tend to do what's required for the grade, and not much more, and certainly not much different.
For example, one presentation stressed strongly how important it is to have good solid metadata in things like videos, because there's no text for a search engine to provide more context and/or relevancy through, so the tagging you give is pretty much all you get. People all over the room are nodding and smiling, like this is news.
Um, hello? Old news, folks. My son Rowan, who is five, understands metatagging. He knows how to start the laptop, launch a browser window, get to YouTube, and search for Tom & Jerry cartoons... in English. He also gets really upset when his searches return videos in other languages (although sometimes he thinks the Japanese ones are pretty funny...). He gets that lack of appropriate tagging is a usability problem, because that's what it is for him. Of course, he doesn't have the language to fully express all that the same way we do. But the fact is that as a consumer of multimedia content, his behavior and his reactions are utterly predictable, and at age five, he is already forming opinions about the technological acuity of the people who post such content.
You can remind people to tag their content, but if they are not consumers of such content, they won't really understand, as Rowan does, how insanely frustrating it is when it all goes pearshaped.
So then, later in the day, people are talking about using new media (whatever that is) to attract "the new developer"... you know, the youth who are driving things now. And I'm nodding, cause I totally agree. And then they start talking, heaven help me, about the Universities and speaking to college students! And in my head, I can see Rowan, already cruising the web, already conversant with how to click past annoying Flash intro pages, already becoming a savvy consumer of online technology. Considering the ugly brushes we've already had with minor forms of academia, (here and here), the very idea of my child going to college is ridiculous, and waiting to graduate from the Ivory Towers Of Ossified Thinking to become successful is laughable in the economy of today.
Rowan knows who Duke is, he knows what Flash animation is, and he knows to look for the blessed "skip this intro" buttons. He knows what HTML is, and I'm teaching him coding, a little bit at a time. I think about him encountering his first "Hello, World" and I cringe just a little bit. Just like it's absurd for a roomful of adults who don't even use multimedia to stand around talking about presenting it to people who are native users of it, it's absurd to think that someday some professor will be more competent to teach my child about the Cloud than he, who's been breathing it for years, is.
I'd like to really recommend that my colleagues and compatriots leave work early, go home... and watch their kids interact with the digital environment. They will learn far more from that exercise about the context of the Digital Native, and about the reality of content propagation for that audience, than they will by listening to a roomful of Digital Immigrants blather on about a sky they've never even really seen.
Laureen is a writer, a professional editor, a scuba instructor, a beginning sailor, a traveler, and an obsessive researcher who's chiefly focused on, and delighted with, her husband Jason and her sons Rowan and Kestrel. She's a lifelong Californian, which lends a very distinctive spin to both her ideas and her politics, and she's discovered, in her peregrinations, that the world is far smaller yet far more fascinating than anyone gives it credit for being. She holds forth her opinions on that in her blog, The ElementalMom.