Not a Digital Native

Can I say this without catching all sorts of hell? I’m happy that I’m not a digital native. When I as growing up there was no internet. People didn’t start having personal computers until I was in high school, and then they were rare an expensive things. I’m not saying my generation, or the generations before me, are superior to the folks for whom smartphones, tablets, and wifi were ubiquitous growing up. The online world clearly offers a lot of benefits. I do think that being a digital immigrant grants a perspective that natives don’t have. That’s what I’m grateful for.

I’m not going to rant about how people don’t read anymore, the lack of privacy we’re come to accept, or even the new strains of bigotry and propaganda made possible by constant connectivity. What I really worry about is a loss of analog equivalents. We’re losing these things as backup plans. What happens if we lose this resource? Net neutrality is already dead. There’s a virtual monopoly between a handful of service providers. The more essential the internet becomes, especially to those who’ve never lived without it, the more those companies and government are able to control and manipulate people.

Not a Digital Native

Physical media is a pain and takes up space, but there are movies, TV shows, and bands that aren’t available on any streaming service. Warren Ellis has written about rebuilding his personal library. As far back as 2012 people were learning that buying a digital thing doesn’t mean you have it forever. Licensing agreements change. Companies are bought up or go under. Devices and formats always evolve. That’s just entertainment. What else are we at risk of losing?

In many ways, it’s the same old story of becoming addicted to convenience. I don’t mind walking to the grocery story a couple of times a week. Not everything has to be delivered. Standing on line at the bank doesn’t bother me, because that was the norm for most of my life. I know how to hail a cab, read a map, and use a card catalog. Like any addiction, it gives those who can supply a fix power over the addicted. It’s good business for them to keep you addicted. They benefit from limiting your choices, making you dependent, and removing your power. You can dismiss me as an old man yelling at the cloud. I think we should all be a bit concerned.

one response for Not a Digital Native

  1. Back in the 1980s I could find literally anything in an academic library with a card catalogue. Now I can do even more online with specialist search engines… and I don’t even have to go to the library to do it. My collection of computer science papers sit on a USB drive (backed up on a desktop, a laptop & in the cloud, of course); whilst the 1980s botantical papers moulder in a large folder, and box after box of index cards have been replaced with Endnote (other referencing software is available). My daughter was born about the same time as the World Wide Web and as we were early adopters, she grew up with it. Now she’s a software engineer herself.

    But all this tech is a tool. No more, no less. Tools are useful but they don’t replace thought and debate (sometimes hard: too many folk on social media don’t understand the concept of a different point of view, let alone how to construct an argument or justify their position!). It may be easier to find those academic papers, but I still have to read them critically and decide a) what they have to say and b) whether I agree with it, just as I did in the 1980s with botanical papers in dusty journals.

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