These digital natives don’t email

If you read enough edublogs, you begin to encounter the factions that believe that students today are digital natives and have all sorts of rich information experiences all the time in their everyday lives. This is usually taken to mean that they use all kinds of electronic means of sending and receiving information, such as email. I’m already skeptical of that claim, and after the following experience from today I am even less sure about it.

We had some high school students visiting the math department at my college, and part of the program was a discussion panel with current math majors. One of the math majors was asked about some of the main differences between high school and college, and he mentioned the quantity of email that one has to keep up with as a major difference. He asked the high school students how often they checked their emails now. They all looked at each other sheepishly. The math major then asked how many students have email accounts at all. Less than half indicated that they did.

Less than half. How can that be, if they are digital natives? I think have at least half a dozen email addresses just for myself!

So now I am wondering: Do most of the students not have email accounts because they simply aren’t as technologically immersed as some people think they are? Or do they have some other electronic medium for communicating, like text messaging, that they use more frequently than email — so much more frequently that they don’t even have email accounts? I know texting is big among the 18-22 year old set right now, but it’s hard to imagine texting simply usurping the role of email, when you can get email accounts for free all over the place.


Filed under High school, Student culture, Technology

5 responses to “These digital natives don’t email

  1. lynn

    What I’ve noticed is kids use Instant Messaging or social network sites more than email if they are allowed computer access. Parents often restrict access to the internet at home because they are concerned about easy access to porn and violent content and the unsavory aspects of myspace. For parents it’s a steep learning curve to understanding how to keep the internet as safe as possible for their teens.

  2. TRMilne

    Myspace and facebook both have instant messaging and email capabilities that students use far more than any traditional email. Texting is also an option because most highschoolers have free (for them) cellphones as a part of a family-plan — safety reasons, don’t you know.

    On the other hand, students as a whole are nowhere near as tech-savvy as the academic enlightened seem to think. The myspace stuff is about it. Figure out a problem with a printer, no. That would mean they could print that essay for class and there’s no point to that. Use the features of Word such as spell-check? Again, not really. They can do more than the average teacher, but that’s it.

  3. elementaryteacher

    As the mother of a teenage daughter (and as a teacher) I see that the kids who like to read and write do use e-mail. My daughter only uses e-mail once every three weeks when she HAS to (like when she wanted to ask her uncle to send her a gift, and he doesn’t have any chat boxes on his computer). Most kids are interested in real time chat (with or without webcam), which has more or less replaced some of the the long telephone conversations of our youth. My daughter doesn’t like to read and write. When she told me she wanted to open a blog, I was pleased. But then I found what she had in mind was no writing, just posting photos! A lot of kids are opening photo blogs with little writing. My daughter said, “Oh, no one would read that anyway…they just want to see the pictures!”

    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas (in the Middle East)

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  5. Most of my friends don’t have e-mails and that makes it hard for me to communicate with them outside of school. Sure, Myspace and Facebook are fine and dandy, but sending people messages through those websites and expecting a response is like pulling the trigger on a revolver 5 times while playing Russian Roulette and not getting shot the sixth time; it’s all very unlikely. I, on the other hand, have gone completely digital, all I need for GTD is on either my Mac or a flash drive. Computer literacy is a graduation requirement at my school, but those classes are all pretty slack.