πŸ€– The digital native myth

πŸ€– The digital native myth
Photo by Giu Vicente / Unsplash

Today, a quick note for future reference as I still hear a lot of marketers still strategizing about "digital natives."

The digital native demography is a common target of many incumbent companies trying to get more into digital. How to address the digital natives effectively has been the main theme of half of the marketing meetings and brainstorms in the industry. Not to mention purveyors of magical solutions, closely guarded secret recipes, and other snake oil.

The common definition of a digital native (by contrast to digital immigrants) is "people born after 1980" that came into a world dominated by the internet more than newspapers or television. The central myth is that these digital natives have a natural understanding of digital tools and can easily manipulate them.

No science or sociological study ever backed this up, but most people born before 1980 decided it just made sense.

It really doesn't:

The digital native is just one of many terms that describe young people as a digitally savvy group, distinctively different in the ways that they understand and use technology when compared to older generations. A term popularised two decades ago, it has influenced the ways policy makers and other stakeholders think about young people and the most appropriate ways to educate and support them. It is a way of framing young people’s relationship with technology that has limited empirical basis, yet persists and indeed grows stronger year by year. The goal of this chapter is to demonstrate the problems behind this term and the negative implications it can have for some young people, particularly those who are already experiencing forms of social inequalities. - Rebecca Eynon (Education in the Digital Age - 9. The myth of the digital native: Why it persists and the harm it inflicts)

I Β never was kind with the concept, mostly addressing its believers as digital naive (yes, I'm a bad person and do terrible puns).

Now to some extent, we can empirically see that the introduction of digital tools has really challenged the generation born around 1940. But there is certainly no generation that was born with an innate understanding of them. Just as much as boomers had to learn reading and writing, they didn't "get newspapers" better because they were born with them.

What to do with this information (besides stopping wasting time on wishful strategies)?

It will depend on what type of business you run, obviously. But in B2C, there are probably two major strategies to adopt regarding digital:

  1. Address everyone in the same way with easy onboarding, minimizing complexity and maximizing accessibility.
  2. As much as you can, go beyond this baseline and, depending on proper segmenting, offer differentiated tools for specific customer groups. But mostly, keep things simple.