Youth and Technology Digital Debates

Historically, there are two major debates related to youth and technology.

  1. First is the access of technology such as to computers and mobile phones.  This is referred in the literature as the digital divide.
  2. Second, as students are growing up in a digital environment, many sources refer to them as digital natives.

This post will offer a brief background of each ‘debate’ including both sides of the argument.  As you read, reflect how you see these debates fitting into your experience and perspective.  Are we divided by technology access with the haves and have-nots?  Are we forever different from youth because they grew up with technology?

The Digital Divide

The concern of a digital divide is a warranted discussion in college student use and impact of all forms of technology.  This happens when individuals do not have equal access to technology and thus cannot participate in digital conversations (Ahn, 2011).  This would mean a student without these tools (computer, phone, internet connection) would miss out on the benefits or potential pitfalls of social media communication tools.  However, studies on high school students show otherwise.

Using the Pew Internet & American Life project (PIAL) of 700 teens and their parents, Ahn (2011) looked at the subset of questions that inquired about teens use of social media.  What was discovered was that students in high school access the Internet both at school and home, in addition to mobile phones.  Further, those without computers or Internet access at home were finding other ways to get online.

 “Surprisingly, teens that report having primary access in other locations (perhaps friends’ homes or their mobile phones) were 128% more likely to be social network site users” (p. 158).

This could be due to the fact they were away from parents and adult supervision.  This confirms what Johnson’s (2012) study showed that students are already coming to college with a vase amount of experience and knowledge about technology.  From the PIAL project it was reported that 95% of teens in the U.S. utilize the Internet at least occasionally (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2013).

Looking at college students, nearly all (89%) own a laptop computer or a smart phone (76%) (Dahlstrom, Walker, & Dziuban, 2013).  However, the digital divide must still be kept in perspective when developing, implementing and researching technology communication tools for students at all levels in the educational system.


Digital Natives

Presnkey (2001) declared that those born after 1980 are called Digital Natives because they have lived a life immersed in digital living and as a result “they learn different from previous generations of people” (p. 9).  This includes how they process information.

Presnky has received many challengers to this concept, as all should not be lumped into one category.  However, Bennet, Marton & Keven (2008) found no claims in the Digital Natives argument, with no empirical or theoretical basis.  Each user has different experiences overtime and how that has or has not shaped their technology skills.

Even if ‘digital natives’ are different than prior generations, I believe what Davis (2013) stated that “they still require supportive, face-to-face relationships in order to thrive” (p. 2289).

Digital access, skill development, and actual usage brings to the surface the need to teach students digital literacies.  Brandtzaeg (2012) showed over half of student users lurking or sporadically logging on without posting which:

Indicates passive consumption and quite low-interest or low-skilled use of SNSs for the majority of the SNS user population.  They may reflect a new kind of digital divide, where a large part of the population is not suited to adopt, utilize, and reap reward of the new networked societies” (p. 485).

Two authors echoed this statement, as one needs access to technology to learn it (Salmon, 2000), as well as having intention and competency with tools to benefit from social media (Hughes 2009).  These studies have discussed the digital divide in access, skill and development.

There is still a need to dig deeper into technology competencies to study behavior acted out online through social media.  Previously I have written about this (here), highlighting research that include these digital literacy competencies in order to develop digital student leaders.

What are other digital debates you are facing working with teens and young adults?  Please keep the conversation going in the comments below!

Follow me on Twitter @josieahlquist

For all content cited on this post, explore {here} for all references I have used on my blog.

*All images purchased from

2 Responses to Youth and Technology Digital Debates

  1. ajuanderfullife March 6, 2014 at 9:45 am #

    As a young adult, I feel like there is a definite digital divide between “haves” and “have-nots” in this day and age. I don’t consider myself a digital native however. Yes, I gained access to technology/computers/internet at a young age, but I’ve had to learn how to use social media, tablets and touch-screens along with the rest of society as they have become readily accessible.

    My niece on the other hand, and her cousins who have seen and even used technology such as iPads as soon as they are born and are babies are truly digital natives. They have grown up with that technology, and as they enter secondary, post-secondary and the work force we will see how this affects society and them as individuals.


  1. What Are You Typing? « Josie Ahlquist - April 23, 2014

    […] recently wrote about the concepts of digital divide, as well as digital natives.  Access does not mean literacy; growing up in and around technology definitely does not equate to […]

, , , , ,