A nice 12-years-old girl makes herself comfortable sitting on a chair in my son’s room. There are plenty of books, teddies, and other toys around.  She does not take a look at them though as she is busy watching her smartphone. Then, my son comes in. He is 6 and very happy to finally see a guest in our house who is younger than 40.  He tries to invite the girl to play with him. “Do you care for some lego?“, he asks. No response. Or a train? Cars? Teddy-bears? The girl keeps ignoring him, eyes constantly on her phone. So he has no choice but to reach for his most precious toy: a beautifully designed pinwheel, multicolored, with a shiny diode on each little sail. A nice, cool, electronic gadget.  “Do you want to play with a pinwheel?“, my son asks. And it finally made her raise her eyebrows, she gives him and the pinwheel a short look, and she, as down-to-earth as only a 12-years-old can be, asks: “What the fuck do I need a pinwheel for?”, and she goes back to her screen.

Because her, and millions of other kids and young people, who were born after 1980 are the N-(for Net)-gen, more commonly referred to as digital natives (Prensky, 2001). These are people who were born and were/are brought up in the world of modern technologies, who have been, since their birth, surrounded by computers, the Internet, smartphones, digital music players and other digital devices, who do not know or can’t even imagine a world without them. The world of people, on the other hand, who are 30/40/50+ now, and are known as digital immigrants (Prensky, 2001), people who, sure, use modern technologies, and very often are fascinated by them, but it is not their world, and they would never 100% melt into, just like a Polish guy who immigrated to the United States some years ago, and, yes, he can speak the language, but he is not capable of getting rid of his foreign accent. And, it does not matter how much he tries, singing a Polish anthem will always be easier for him than The Star Spangled Banner. A digital immigrant, yes, he writes a document on a computer, but for editing, he prints it out (or has his secretary print it out for him – an even “thicker” accent (Prensky, 2001). He surely turns to the Internet for information, but if he sees an interesting website, he brings people physically into his office to see it (rather than just sending them the URL). And when he sends an email, he makes a “Did you get my email?” phone call (Prensky, 2001). Such thinking is totally foreign to digital natives. They prefer getting information really fast, they want everything NOW, right away, immediately, with no delay. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They print out nothing, paper is a holdover for them. If they read, they use e-books instead. They edit everything on their computers, or, more frequently, on their smartphones. They do not call anybody to confirm an email to be delivered, well, they hardly ever send an email, they use text messaging, chat rooms, messangers, facebooks, twitters, snapchats and other apps, which my mind, the mind of a digital immigrant, totally does not get. They, as Prensky points out,  prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They prefer games to “serious” work. They like to parallel process and multi-task (2001).

It is very hard for parents and teachers to imagine that children can learn with the smartphone or music on, or, what is even harder to believe, with the smartphone and music on. Because it is not what they used to do. Because their world was slower, step-by- step, one thing at a time. And it was serious (Prensky, 2001). But kids ARE capable of doing so, just because they are different: smartphones have been in their pockets since they were born; their first  tablet came along their first stroller, and Youtube music has been around since their cradle. They are better at communicating online rather than in real life. Thus, they have no patience or time to focus on single tasks or to follow boring and long instructions. Some even claim that their brains have physically changed, and if it is not the case yet, what has changed for sure are their thinking patterns (Prensky, 2001).

And, if this is the case, there is no point in fighting that. No sense to go against it. There is no chance our kids, who are growing up in digital environment would ever go back to our pre-digital pattern of thinking. And it does not really matter how much we wish they would. Sure we can ban them from using smartphones at school. We can limit access to smartphones at home, but what is going to change? Let’s say I take away the smartphone from my teenage daughter, and make her study. But after very short time the smartphone goes back onto her desk, and I just feel like an inconsistent fool, because: 1) she gotta look up her work schedule for tomorrow (available only on her smartphone), 2) she gotta work on her history project (and doing it with no smartphone is impossible, as the teacher gave the class links to history websites), 3) she gotta complete some missing biology lessons in her notebook (and her friend has just sent her snapshots of them), and 4) she gotta learn how to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and how on earth is she going to get the tune right with no Youtube?! Smart adult immigrants accept that they don’t know about their new world and take advantage of their kids to help them learn and integrate. Not-so-smart (or not-so-flexible) immigrants spend most of their time grousing about how good things were in the “old country.” (2001).

So, as soon as my teenage daughter comes back home and she joins our guest holding a smartphone too, I just watch them. Soon, they laugh together, they show some things on screens to each other, they even say some words (!). Do I like it? Not much. But, on the other hand, do I interfere? Not really. I just leave them, and go to play with my younger son, who has not been entirely taken over yet by the digital world. Not yet.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives. Digital Immigrants. http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Illustration: Jacek Zygmunt


Keep ignoring him – ciągle go ignoruje; keeps doing sth – ciągle coś robić

a pinwheel – wiatrak/wiatraczek

digital natives/digitals immigrants – terminy wprowadzone po raz pierwszy w 2001 roku przez M. Prensky’ego dla określenia osób, które wychowały się w świecie komputerów, Internetu itd, urodzonych po 1980 roku (cyfrowi tubylcy) i starszych (cyfrowi imigranci)

melt into – wtopić się w

a holdover – przeżytek

ban sth from using – zakazać używania czegoś