Understanding Digital Natives Is
Key To Better Marketing
According to the internet: “Digital natives are distinguished from digital immigrants, people who grew up in a world dominated by print and television because they were born within the advent of the Internet”.
But this definition isn’t entirely helpful. Technology doesn’t just appear and replace. It develops and disseminates. Being a Digital Native is less about when you’re born and more about the extent to which you exhibit certain behaviors as a result of technology’s influence. It’s about the effects, not the causes.
Understanding these effects allows us to better understand how people interact with the world, making us better marketers. So to see where you lie on the spectrum of Digital Nativism, we prepared a list of some of the most prominent behavioral effects.
For Digital Natives, Everything Is Permanent
The internet doesn’t just distribute information, historical record, content and entertainment. It archives it too. For a Digital Native, nothing in their lives disappears, everything is archived digitally, influencing how they view their lived experience.
Growing up with the expectation that the world is archived on the internet bleeds into behavior. It means Digital Natives have a compulsion to digitally document their real lives as if their lived experience would fade away had they not.
Every moment is a photo, a video, a social post, or an iPhone note. Placed in a digital safety deposit box in ‘the cloud’, ready to be retrieved. For the Digital Native, nothing in their lives has been temporary, and nothing should be ephemeral as experiences are habitually converted to code to be re-experienced in the future.
Do you feel anxiety that your memories and experiences will fade away if you don’t record and archive them? If so, you could be a Digital Native
For Digital Natives, Creation and Artistry Are Inherent Social Behaviors
For the Digital Native, social communication and creation are one and the same. The most creative expression a non-artist of an older generation may have managed was a cleverly worded letter or email; the Digital Native communicates and expresses themselves through things they’ve made.
Everyone’s now a film director and editor making TikToks. It’s a creative endeavor that welcomes anyone who downloads the app. Even an Instagram post of your weekend trip invites a certain element of creativity. This teaches the Digital Native that creativity is open to anyone.
For the Digital Native, everyone is an artist; everyone should share their ideas, because that’s how you socialize, communicate, kill boredom, make money and connect with fellow creators.
Do you habitually create things as part of your everyday social life? If so, then you could be a Digital Native.
Digital Natives Value Privacy In A Novel Way
How we value privacy seems to exist on a sliding scale. The average person today is comfortable sharing their life with their friends on social media, or publicly. But Digital Nativism has taken this to new heights. At your next family event, ask your younger cousin to show you their ‘Snap Map’.
There’s a good chance they can see the exact location of 100+ of their ‘friends’ in real-time. This is a lack of privacy that would make anyone who had grown up without this social culture squirm with discomfort. Yet for the Digital Native, it’s just another part of their social lives.
Are you comfortable with sharing aspects of your life (like your exact geographic location) with friends and acquaintances? If so, then you could be a Digital Native.
Digital Natives o Not See Niche Interests as Niche
Back in the day, specialized interests and hobbies were an isolating pursuit. For example, you were probably the only model train guy you knew. Or the only art-house cinema girl you were aware of.
But the internet has created a freeway system of flowing communication that removes this isolation. The model train guy now has an online forum, a subreddit, YouTube channels and #TrainGang on TikTok. Suddenly model trains aren’t quite so niche but can be shared with millions of people.
Do you have specific interests that you don’t consider to be niche? If so, you could be a Digital Native.
Digital Natives Are More Likely to Question Cultural Orthodoxy
In the past, people grew up subject to the cultural orthodoxy of their environment, the news and entertainment media, government and their education system. To be exposed to something outside of this orthodoxy, you had to go find it.
The digital world allows anyone to be exposed to ideologies and values from around the world. And, more importantly, not through another culture’s media, but directly and unfiltered through a real person from within another culture. Now Trevor from Tennessee can see a real-life TikTok made by Henrik from Helsinki explaining his life and values.
Do you find yourself contrasting your cultural orthodoxy with someone else? If so, you could be a Digital Native.
Socializing in Virtual Third Places is Legitimate
Growing up, Digital Natives needed a private place to escape from their parents after a day of learning Pythagoras’ Theorem. With increasing safety concerns and the appeal of virtual realities, they looked to digital worlds for their Third Place. Soon, a game of Battle Royale on Fortnite or a session on Roblox became perfectly legitimate substitutes for a face-to-face interaction with friends. As a consequence, the need to hang out hasn’t changed –what defines the legitimacy of the space has. For the Digital Native, a ‘Virtual Coffee’, FaceTime, a voice note or a funny GIF are more legitimate forms of social interaction than for older generations.
Do you see digital/virtual communication as a perfectly legitimate social interaction? If so, you could be a Digital Native.
Overall, the point is, we are ALL Digital Natives to some degree. Digital Nativism is not a condition you’re born into. It’s more like radiation; the more you’re exposed to the internet, the more you’re affected. It is not a core generational trait. It’s a set of behaviors that are only going to increase in prominence and prevalence. And of course, new ones will emerge too.