Graham Attwell makes an important point here, which resonates with work done on university students’ use of the Internet for learning by colleagues at Brookes.
The locus of work or study: the context in which the person engages in online activity is far more important than other more accidental attributes of the individual such as their year of birth or their sex. Yes, year cohorts will have different contexts available, but there are adept and critical users of the internet of all ages, just as there are digitally illiterate “digital natives”.
… research into the use of ICT for learning based on case studies in 106 enterprises in Europe suggested that older workers were more likely to use social software for developing and exchanging learning and knowledge. This, we hypothesised, was because they often had more autonomy in undertaking their work and in using learning in the workplace. If that is true, then work organisation would seem to be the most important factor in introducing social software in enterprises.
In a similar vein, Ruslan Ramanau, Rhona Sharpe and Greg Benfield (2008) observed:
… the precise nature of technology use is influenced by the context of use. The independence of the group of activities related to using the web as a learning resource suggests that these behaviours are influenced by the context in which the learner finds themselves (the course, the institution) rather than their attributes. This implies a high level of institutional relevance and responsibility for shaping learner behaviours in this area. The dominance of the frequency of study activities related to searching for, accessing and reading online resources suggests that institutions should actively seek to shape learner experiences and skills in searching for and evaluating online information.
So, if we were to substitute the term “digital native” with “digitally literate” (or similar), and then set out the characteristics of digital literacy, we might have a more usefully theorised taxonomy of people’s relationship with the Internet and ICTs.
I have a hunch that the term “digital native” is used in a neocolonial manner by established elites (Graham notes the readiness with which the term was adopted by the press) to reinforce the otherness of people whose characteristics, behaviours and actions are perceived as destablising to the status quo.