Younger generations of Australians are often referred to as ‘digital natives’ because digital technologies are almost second nature to them. The debate surrounding this aspect of the digital divide is largely focused on the future potential of children, and how their lives will be shaped by their proficiency and adversely their reliance on digital technologies – particularly the Internet and telecommunication devices.
Having started using personal computers at a young age, children growing up in the past decade have a acquired a digital literacy that puts them at odds with their parent’s generation. Unlike their children who are accustomed to using digital technology as early as primary school, many adults have had to adapt established methods of learning and working in response to the rapid evolution of digital technologies.
The ability of Australian children to navigate the digital waters is seen as essential in terms of maximizing their potential as the backbone of the nation’s workforce in the near future. The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported that a snapshot of the national computer literacy of students in Year 6 and Year 10 revealed a disparity of achievement according to the level of disadvantage experienced by students. According to the government, this will be addressed with the Digital Education Revolution, preparing students to live in a ‘digital world’.
But it must be pointed out that an increased dependency digital media at a young age can produce detrimental effects. This is increasingly being manifested in the lack of authenticity and depth of real-life social relationships due to the reliance of online and mobile communication with peers.
Learning how to maneuver the minefield of adolescence is increasingly dependent on technological skills as the most valuable form of social currency. A recent New York Times article weighed in on the debate, citing studies that have shown how children’s development is adversely affecting by a lack of face-to-face social interaction. These are essential to developing emotional literacy and social skills that contribute to forming healthy adult relationships later in life.
It is hard to make a sweeping statement about the efficacy of the push for digital literacy for the youth of today, but suffice it to say that the results of children being constantly switched on and plugged in will change the nature of social relationships in an as yet unforeseeable way in the near future.