Characteristics of the ‘Digital Native’ generation in a Digital Environment

Devie Rahmawati Lecturer in University of Indonesia’s Vocational Program

IO – The telecommunications industry is staying up with changes and broadening of services, as technology becomes a truly indispensable part of an individual’s everyday life, especially the ubiquitous mobile devices, all drawing increased demand for unlimited access to connectivity and data (Gkioulous, et al 2017; Shrivastava, 2017). It also entails a dependence on these devices for social media usage, financial and time management for continuous connectivity (Hofer, 2018). This advanced technology has disrupted individual behaviors and significantly changed the way people act, interact, think and craft their lifestyle (Shrivastava, 2017). It has come to pass because mobile technology has tempted individuals to rely on the internet more than ever to complete their work and create a social persona (Po-Hong Shih, et al 2018).

However, this rapid development of communication devices and technologies cannot always be adapted to by the senior generation; such individuals may not be as inclined to adapt and adjust to the new ways of thinking and behaving, picking up cyber-skills, as a junior generation (Po-Hong Shih, et al 2018). Researcher has divided people into groups known as “digital immigrants” and “digital natives”.

Digital immigrants are those born before 1980, with experience interacting with computers and through face-to-face communication. They grew up in an “offline and paper-based task” era. This generation got used to revert to conventional methods when trying to adapt to new technology – at least compared to Digital Natives. This generation consists of those born after 1980. They live amid a full arsenal of educational resources, a realm of digital technology with computers and the ubiquitous internet, video games, smartphones, digital music players, video camcorders, cellular mobile telephones, interactive television, personal digital assistants and other tools of the digital age. This “native” is immersed in digital technology. It makes them more willing to engage with social causes on social media than previous generations. They have their own way to engage with the environment. They are savvy in the use of technology devices and features such as email, instant messaging, internet and text messaging (Chaves, et al, 2016; Zarenejad, 2018; Dahl, et al 2018; Zimerman, 2012; Lazorko, 2015; Furini, 2014; Stockham, 2016; Purnell, 2017; Spangler, 2015; Wang, et al 2013; Núñez-Gómez et al 2012; Tufts, 2010; Young, 2012; Kesterson 2015; Bates, 2013; Islam Manik, D. 2015).

It is important to highlight the character of the digital natives considered as an early adopters of new technologies and services, and therefore their habits, behavior and lifestyles are good indicators of what is happen at present. Therefore, to the best of our knowledge, there are no previous studies that consider how this generation consumes media, particularly regarding hoaxes. The social influence and more especially social norms in some studies have been shown to influence both pro-social behaviors as well as risk-related behavior. Some research found that social influence had a radical impact on media adoption, social integration and technology adoption.

This research exploits a qualitative approach with 35 informants from two cities in Indonesia (Depok and Jakarta). These informants were the participants of the University of Indonesia’s community service program (Pengmas DRPM UI), “Kampung Digital”, in eight months from May – October 2019. The purpose of this qualitative research was to reveal perceptions and experiences of digital natives using digital technologies. This study intends to look at their daily activity in consuming news and information from the internet and how they spread information to others. “In qualitative research, the main purpose is to comprehend the participants’ perspective. The objective is to try to know the social world from the perspectives of the actors” (Rahmawati et al 2019). The process of gaining information is carried out to have a broader range of information, by conducting in-depth interviews. The interview is conducted 2 times for each informant.

The results of 8 months of qualitative research resulted in five findings related to the perspective and experiences of all informants to issues of media consumption, especially hoax information and news. First is the digital natives’s misinterpretation of the digital competence to their own experience or expertise in using technologies in the context of media literacy to combat the spread of fake news. Second is how a digital native schemata is in a state of disequilibrium, because of the lack of existing schemata to assimilate digital texts. Third is how digital information and news consumption has an emotional impact on the digital native. Fourth is how the digital native has barriers in being an agent of change for the environment, to eradicate hoax information and fake news. Even for digital natives and immigrants using the same platform to get news, there were differences in perspective. Fifth is how digital natives learn to adapt and adopt information and news, using a digital patron-client structure.

Misinterpretation of Digital Competence
Digital competence deals with literacy competence, which is defined as reading and writing ability, as crucial skills for success in a digital era (Kesterson, 2015). Most of such skills developed during formal education, and intensive reading and writing across all curriculum areas. This study found that reading ability did not influence competence in other content areas as it “correlates with poor achievement in understanding context”. Additionally, a low level of understanding correlates with the particular content and communication channel they adopt. The digital native tends toward overconfidence in their literacy competence skill level. They are in a position of being unaware of their own lack of capability in recognising hoax information and news, while exhibiting a high level of confidence, against clearly more skilled individuals. Moreover, they also display a strong confidence in identifying literacy proficiency in others, especially other digital immigrants.

From our observation of the informants’ digital activities, we found also that digital natives are ill-equipped to define which information is more credible than others. They differ with digital immigrants only in the themes of information. Such digital natives also need assistance from either other natives or adults to make them aware of the potential of unbelievable information and news.

Digital Native Schemata
Informants were both in a state of equilibrium and disequilibrium, while they were accessing and interpreting information and news. When they could not appropriately interpret information or news and consuming hoaxes, they will be in a state of disequilibrium. But this moment never lasts longer than other generations experience, because informants have an existing schemata that is useful for interpreting the novelty of information and news.

The digital literacy atmosphere has shifted from conventional reading and writing practices, wherein informants’ behaviours have transferred from print texts with the assistance of digital devices to digital texts that are more interactive. This experience pushes digital natives to utilize and integrate all non-linear media, to compare and investigate the information and news. So when they got “lost”, their schemata will be their “light” to the truth.

“Emotional” Behaviour
As informants interact with the digital text, they bring their historical knowledge, and gain their own construct, understanding and meanings from each “transaction”. Informants use their schemata collection to understand such phenomena; still, most use their “emotional” schemata background to extract meaning from each piece of digital information. That is why even though they grew up in a digital realm, and have a permanent residence in the digital environment, their emotional basic instinct can lead them to accept hoaxes. Their emotional reaction overcomes their rationality in accepting data and news.

This emotional reaction diverges in theme. Most of the issues that can affect informants relate more to their lifestyles, such as transportation routes, school issues, restaurants and cafes; doing business; clothes and cyber-devices. When dealing with those issues, most informants say that they can potentially fall a hoax trap.

Social and Cultural Handicaps
As a residents of a digital environment, informants see this digital world as a natural extension of their domestic and public lives. They have a permanent identity on the internet where they are consuming and producing content at the same time. For them, life on internet is a one-way ticket: there is absolutely no going back. They realize this and try their best to always update their knowledge, skills and attitudes toward digital life and products. That is why they feel that they have a moral obligation to be an ambassador of the digital world to their offline environment. Related to the spread of hoaxes, they testify that they have tried to share knowledge and skills with their relatives and family about how to avoid the persuasion of hoaxes. But it is never easy. For other generations, the digital “visitors”, ones who are not familiar with interactive digital features and did not grow up using digital access as a source of knowledge during their formative times, the immigrants (visitors) are normally pessimistic that the natives (resident generation) are able to understand phenomena by simply consuming digital text.

Such cultural barriers make informants skeptical about the ability of digital immigrants to counter hoax information. Every step that the native takes, the immigrant sees that as a condemnation.

Digital Patron – Client Structure
This study found that informants exhibit an over-confident attitude about their own ability to master technology. Observations reveal that with the horizon of available resources, native generations stay attached to a small number of search engines or well-known sources of information. Their laziness in finding or expanding their research resources was a paradox, compared to their speed in data searches. Their insensitivity to context, complexity and credible sources is clearly a problem for today and the future as well.

This happens because in the digital realm, they rely on “digital patrons” for accuracy, relevance and authoritative sources. They look up to “digital celebrities” or well-known individuals when consuming, adapting and evaluating any information and news they come across.

Informants rely on their patrons to get the truth if they become suspicious about data. While they are savvy in using cutting-edge devices, this does not mean that they have a capacity to use search engines optimally nor to discern which information resources to prefer over others. The gap between what the informants think they know about information and news research and what this digital native actually knows was filled by data supplied by their patron.

Analysis & Suggestion
Data collected and analyzed from this study suggests that the digital native (resident) has a different pattern in consuming media. Their characteristic render them vulnerable to hoax infection. To overcome this, the community needs to adapt to digital inclusion, which has three dimensions: access, affordability and digital ability. Accessincludes Internet Access: frequency, places, and number of access points; Internet Technology: computers, mobile phones, mobile and fixed broadband; Internet Data Allowance: mobile and fixed internet. Affordability:Relative Expenditures: share of household income spent on internet access; Value of Expenditure: total internet data allowance per dollar of expenditure. Digital Ability: Attitudes, including notions of control, enthusiasm, learning, and confidence; Basic Skills, including mobile phones, banking, shopping, community and information skills; Activities, including accessing content, communication, transactions, commerce, media and information (Suwana, 2019).