Will the Natives Become Wise Gals and Wise Guys?

Eight years ago, academic Marc Prensky provided us with two useful terms to differentiate between a younger generation of technology users who have grown up surrounded by the Internet and computers, from older users who had not, labeling them “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” respectively. In a recent article in Innovate, “H. Sapiens Digital: From Digital Immigrants and Native to Digital Wisdom,” [free registration required] Prensky writes: “Although many have found the terms useful…the distinction between digital natives and digital immigrants [has] become less relevant. Clearly, as we work to create and improve the future, we need to imagine a new set of distinctions. I suggest we think in terms of digital wisdom.”

I agree. Chronologically a digital immigrant but spiritually a digital native, I have struggled with this distinction as I have watched clueless young people struggle with technology, accept information uncritically, and behave horribly online, while older people, sometimes even “senior citizens,” are as facile, excited, and connected as the best of the “natives.” As Prensky states, “Technology alone will not replace intuition, good judgment, problem-solving abilities, and a clear moral compass,” qualities which one often associates with experience gained over time. Prensky predicts the emergence of “digital wisdom,” a marriage of sorts, of “wisdom arising from the use of digital technology to access cognitive power beyond our innate capacity and to wisdom in the prudent use of technology to enhance our capabilities.” [emphasis his]

Prensky references Nicholas Carr’s provocative article, “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” Prensky’s response is not surprising. “In fact, what’s happening now is very much the opposite: Digital technology is making us smarter.” So while we may not be as good at memorizing as students in Socrates day, telling time by the position of the sun in the sky, or we may struggle when reading a map or passing spelling tests, these “losses” pale in comparison to the gains to be had with a digitally enhanced mind and its access to a greater expanse of  collective memories and collaboration.

At this point in his article, I am really getting excited about the three questions he poses next:

  • What constitutes digital wisdom?
  • What habits do the digitally wise use to advance their capabilities and the capabilities of those around them?
  • Can digital wisdom be taught?

But here is where the article begins to falter. Some examples of digital wisdom are provided in the form of the Obama campaign’s use of Web 2.0 technologies, and the use of blogs and wikis by journalists. And Prensky is quick to point out that there’s a difference between digital wisdom and what he dubs “digital cleverness.” But the exposition ends here. We’re left with an enticing idea that needs discussion and augmentation to make it as clear and useful as his earlier work.

Perhaps this is not so surprising. It is (to my knowledge), Prensky’s first article on digital wisdom, and no doubt deeper thinking is on the horizon. And as someone possessing digital wisdom, I expect we’ll here more from Prensky and that he, too, will hear more from the members of the digital community to augment this tantalizing proposition.

To that end, let me offer the following suggestions as food for thought.

A person is digitally wise when she or he:

  • uses technology to contribute to the “marketplace of ideas” for the purpose of authentic assessment and to further our collective knowledge.
  • uses technology to find arguments and counterarguments to propositions, uncover biases, and examine ideas from multiple perspectives.
  • recognizes that technology can and should be used to augment human connections, that true wisdom lies in the exchange of ideas with others and not in the solitary confines of person and machine.
  • uses technology for artistic expression to amplify and deepen the human understanding and representation of truth.
  • trusts their instincts as well as the data; makes intuitive leaps beyond the data.

This is fun. Let the comments begin!

Please respond to the following:

A person is digitally wise when she or he…

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3 thoughts on “Will the Natives Become Wise Gals and Wise Guys?

  1. Deirdre

    What I find interesting about this debate that seems to be raging on numerous sites right now is not the fact we need a new definition of intelligence but why does every generation persist in thinking that the next generation is dumb and ill- mannered. (Read the Greek philosophers on the topic.) What is it about the way culture constantly changes and evolves that the older generation just doesn’t get? In my youth, the well educated studied Greek and Latin, you didn’t get into university if you didn’t take Latin in high school. The arguments about how Latin improved the brain sound similar to those but forward in “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?”

  2. sjtaffee Post author

    Why indeed dose every generation find fault with the young? As a child of the sixties, who never trusted anyone over thirty, you would think I would know better. How many of us have found ourselves mouthing things that sound just like our parent’s generation?

    Similarly, I wonder why it is that so many adults need the approval of the young. Do we resent our own aging? Are we afraid of becoming un-hip? Is this what leads us to be so critical of them? Perhaps it has something to do with Erikson’s stage of development, and of generativity versus stagnation, and our own search for a life of meaning.

    Thanks, Deidre.

  3. Pingback: The AUP of the Future | Blogg-Ed Indetermination

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