Raymond Morin
December 3, 2014

Who Are the True Digital Natives?

Since the last economic crisis of 2008-2009, the influx of digital natives in higher education and the labor market has been a major challenge for society. However, businesses and organizations have been slow to adapt to new paradigms. As a result, the question resurfaces frequently in boardrooms and marketing and public relations agencies: Who really are the digital natives and how should we adapt?

How digital natives influence society?

This is the theme of a presentation I made on November 19th 2014, for a hundred participants at the annual conference of RISQ (Quebec Scientific Information Network), in Montreal; an organization that has played a crucial role in the implementation of the Internet and IT in the education system in Quebec, which celebrated at the same time its 25th anniversary.


In this presentation, the picture I present is more sociological than scientific, describing the influence of digital natives in several spheres of activity of modern society. I explain how the generations influence each other, how Generation C is taking control, and how this new paradigm requires companies and organizations to adapt their business approach and their work environment. I emphasize how digital natives have become important actors of political change through social networks, and how the new lifestyles they adopt have modified family and community relationships.

I also describe how digital natives are changing the relationship with the media and institutions by bringing new ways to learn and process information and culture. I note the trends in digital natives, particularly in terms of entrepreneurship and social implications. And finally, I explain why visual communications, social transformation of organizations and the enriching experience of digital natives highlight, in my opinion, the main challenges of the current education system.

This presentation was setting the table for a debate on the issues of digital natives; more specifically in the education sector. A plenary debate, which I was very pleased to participate in thereafter, generated very interesting exchanges. The panel, moderated masterfully (as always) by Bruno Guglielminetti, brought together Vincent Tanguay, Quebec VP Innovation and Transfer CEFRIO, Sylvain Letellier, lecturer at the University of Sherbrooke, and Richard Lacombe, IT Director at HEC, with three young digital natives who soon will knock at the doors of the labor market: AminaMseddi, Victor Therrien, and Marc-Eric Boury; Three brilliant young people and entrepreneurs at heart, who denied several misconceptions about their generation during the debate. Digital natives are not always easy to pigeonhole after all.

Digital natives: a demographic concept redefined!

Even today, we see that the concept of digital natives also remains vague in the minds of many professionals. During my DemographicContextpresentation, I first recalled that according to the concept of Mark Prensky (Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants), the term digital native means the first generation to move from the industrial age to the digital age; the first generation in history that has grown and evolved from the cradle to the digital media, the personal computer and the Internet, video games and cell phones. Those born after 1994 have been called the Generation Z. In the spirit of Prensky, other generations, including the majority of young Generation Y, are rather digital immigrants, that is to say that they have adapted as to changes in technology.

DigitalContextDuring my presentation, I insisted on the fact that in digital age, the future will be more a matter of sociology than technology. And, as such, one must look beyond the statistics and data to understand the real issues. In the digital age, demographic sociology based on periods of 16 to 18 years, no longer fits the reality.

The social context is different now. With the accelerated evolution of technologies, the new generations have become more fragmented.  And this is particularly true with digital natives. In fact, every three or four years, as new technologies emerge, we can observe new social behaviors and trends with the different Generation Z sub-groups. It’s maybe too early to tell what’s going to happen with the last cohort of this generation or with the new ALPHA Generation (born after 2013), but we can expect that they will have something to say in response to the last global economic crisis (2008-2009) and the new social sharing economy.

Digital natives are more voluntary and open than we think

During the discussion that followed, the three young digital natives in turn reminded us that we should not, however, overestimate the importance of new technologies, and that we must stop believing that these young generations are necessarily seasoned digital users. While these new technologies have become practically extensions of their personalities, and they have mastered social media, many lack the structure to use these tools in an educational context. According to them, most would welcome a better faculty supervision of the use of new technologies during classes, provided that involves their choice of tools.

Recently, the site Youtern.com – The Savvy Intern, published an infographic by Bentley University: “Millennials at Work: What They Really Think¨ which also suggests that we should rethink our concept of digital natives and bury the belief regarding the ethical seriousness that they can display in their professional training. Throughout the discussion, the three young people we have met very clearly explained their views, responding with great aplomb to questions from Bruno.

According to the study by the Bentley researchers, although three out of four digital natives require more flexible schedules Millennials-at-Work-What-They-Really-Think(something the three young people in debate did not deny), more than two thirds also believe that their employer should limit their use of social media to enhance their productivity rates, and over 90% of those surveyed admit to regularly checking their emails (work or school) outside of business hours. This study also demonstrates very well that when we trust them and listen to them, the digital natives are not as narcissistic and carefree as popular conceptions seem to indicate. And that in the era of great transformations, new generations may ultimately be the best guide if they are given the keys to change.

It is on this note that I finished my presentation (available on SlideShare), suggesting a series of links, starting with the series of booklets published by CEFRIO on five generations of online users in Quebec (NETendances survey).

What do you think? Share your thoughts and leave us your comments. What are your professional experiences with digital natives? Please feel free to share your experiences.


Additional image: Copyright: ‘http://www.123rf.com/profile_faithie’>faithie / 123RF Stock Photo

The following two tabs change content below.

Raymond Morin

SMO Senior Consultant, Author/Blogger and Speaker at Virage 2.0
Strategic analyst / consultant for over 20 years, specializing in optimizing Web marketing / social media for businesses and organizations, Raymond Morin is also the author of three reference guides (in French), and co-author of three other books about digital marketing, public relations and human resources management. A recognized professional blogger, in both languages, he regularly presents and facilitates conferences for organizations, as well as in-house training workshops. In English, he contributes monthly to various platforms of professional bloggers and social media influencers. His next book, Generation C - Confluence Marketing at the Era of Connected Consumers, will be published next fall on Friesen Press Publishing.