generation gap? 12.07.2007, 11:48 AM
posted by ben vershbow
A pair of important posts, one by Siva Vaidhyanathan and one by Henry Jenkins, call for an end to generationally divisive rhetoric like "digital immigrants" and "digital natives."
Partly, I resist such talk because I don't think that "generations" are meaningful social categories. Talking about "Generation X" as if there were some discernable unifying traits or experiences that all people born between 1964 and pick a year after 1974 is about as useful as saying that all Capricorns share some trait or experience. Yes, today one-twelfth of the world will "experience trouble at work but satisfaction in love." Right.
Invoking generations invariably demands an exclusive focus on people of wealth and means, because they get to express their preferences (for music, clothes, electronics, etc.) in ways that are easy to count. It always excludes immigrants, not to mention those born beyond the borders of the United States. And it excludes anyone on the margins of mainstream consumer or cultural behavior.
In the case of the "digital generation," the class, ethnic, and geographic biases could not be more obvious.
In reality, whether we are talking about games or fan culture or any of the other forms of expression which most often get associated with digital natives, we are talking about forms of cultural expression that involve at least as many adults as youth. Fan culture can trace its history back to the early part of the 20th century; the average gamer is in their twenties and thirties. These are spaces where adults and young people interact with each other in ways that are radically different from the fixed generational hierarchies affiliated with school, church, or the family. They are spaces where adults and young people can at least sometimes approach each other as equals, can learn from each other, can interact together in new terms, even if there's a growing tendency to pathologize any contact on line between adults and youth outside of those familiar structures.
As long as we divide the world into digital natives and immigrants, we won't be able to talk meaningfully about the kinds of sharing that occurs between adults and children and we won't be able to imagine other ways that adults can interact with youth outside of these cultural divides. What once seemed to be a powerful tool for rethinking old assumptions about what kinds of educational experiences or skills were valuable, which was what excited me about Prensky's original formulation [pdf], now becomes a rhetorical device that short circuits thinking about meaningful collaboration across the generations.
Gordon W.S. Lane on December 7, 2007 1:13 PM:
I can't say I'd agree with either of their reasonings for removing the terms, and it all sounds like a bunch of hippie peace and love crap.
Siva: a generation is indeed a meaningful social category. My grandparents were from a different generation, and approached things as simple and seemingly fluid as everyday speech in a much different way than I do. It was the historical frame they were educated in that caused my mouth to be washed out with soap; my own children will probably not have that done to them.
Jenkins: not acknowledging the divide for some warm and fuzzy feeling of "interaction" would be akin to refusing to acknowledge that two groups of people have two different primary languages. They might all speak English, but if one group spoke Spanish for the first 20 years of their life, the conversation is going to sound and probably be slightly different.