'Immigrants' vs. 'natives': generational differences in adapting to technology

Former fellow WBVO columnist R.J. Johnson of “Family Observations” fame surely would have written about this topic. If you are not familiar you can always read any of R.J.’s insightful prose – and any other columnists’ back numbers – at wbvobserver.com.

Growing up in a culture where public transportation was the preferred mode of transportation (many Japanese go through life without ever getting a driver’s license), it was interesting for me to learn that many American teens go through driving education as part of their high school curriculum and get their driver’s license before even their high school diploma. I understood that getting a driver’s license is another rite of passage to adulthood.

Imagine my surprise when a friend recently told me that her daughter is more interested in getting the next flagship smartphone rather than a driver’s license with the privilege to drive the hand-me-down family car to school. Flabbergasted? Yes but I do get it, and her daughter is probably not an anomaly, either.

I’m no sociologist but the right of passage to get a driver’s license probably is about driving away from helicopter parents to be with friends; it probably was never about the freedom to roam the open roads alone.

Smartphones and other always-connected-to-the internet devices satisfy that core need of a teenager to be part of their tribe. In fact, they might think why bother with remembering to put their hands at the ten and two o’clock positions on the steering wheel when texting, video chatting and social media from the comfort of their own room lets them congregate in the digital world.

To understand why congregating in the digital world is equivalent to hanging out at the mall, we need to first accept the different communication and relationship-building preferences of the generations.

People born in the earlier part of the generation known as the “Millennials,” as well as all generations that came before them, are commonly known as “digital immigrants” while people born in the latter part and “Generation Z” that came after the Millennials are known as “digital natives.”

Although all generations are born into the real world (duh) Generation Z was born into a flourishing and maturing technology landscape anchored by the disruptive innovation known as the internet; they grew up with the amenities offered by the digital world.

Digital natives, including my friend’s daughter, may find nothing out of ordinary when they hang out in the digital world by using their smartphones instead of meeting in the mall’s food courts or movie theaters.

What used to be a special event – i.e. getting a driver’s license – may be losing its luster; I predict that soon, if not already, many other examples of other generational differences fueled by the digital world will change the fabric of our culture.

For digital immigrants, harnessing the life skill of “digital literacy” is critical because Generation Z are likely your grandkids, nieces, nephews, sons and daughters … ever wonder why your grandkids don’t call or visit you?

Tak Sato

Strategist with over 25 years of experience. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and Executive MBA from Cleveland State University.

As Founder of Center for Aging in the Digital World, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit empowering seniors through digital literacy, and founder of geek with a heart with the service mark "Hand-holding You in the Digital World", Tak helps people utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives.

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Volume 9, Issue 17, Posted 9:38 AM, 09.06.2017