The Digital Kids

Nikolaj Rasmussen

Nikolaj Rasmussen

By Nikolaj Rasmussen. Nikolaj Rasmussen is a Communication Designer who works with interaction design and new technologies. He also has a big passion for podcasting, and is the co-founder of Rocket Cast, a Danish podcast about the world of technology, and how it affects our culture.


On the Horizon

Technology has never moved faster than it does now, and if we are to believe the technology forecasters, what we have seen the last ten years is going to be nothing compared to the next ten years. The technological revolution has only just begun. Computer hardware has become cheaper, mobile data is ubiquitous and there are now more machines online than people. There is an autonomous network of devices communicating with each other. Rockets, satellites, PCs, mobile phones, temperature sensors and traffic cameras are all interconnected. This is known as the “Internet of Things”. Among the new technologies on the horizon are self-driving cars, autonomous robots and drones, 3D printing and Virtual Reality (VR). Especially VR permeates the art and entertainment scene, with its immersive and intense experience of altering reality through technology.


In between these technologies, we as people try to fit in and figure it out and so do our kids. The technology is shaping us, our interactions and habits. The biggest difference between kids today and kids 30 years ago is that kids today are born into the digitalization. They think and process information differently. For them being online and being digital is the most natural thing ever.


The Natives are Here!

In 2001 Marc Prensky coined the phrases “Digital Immigrant” and “Digital Native”, which, roughly translated, are two groups of people; people who were born before and people who were born after the major digitization of our world and the effect it had on our culture in the eighties. I am a digital immigrant, because I remember a time when there was no Internet, and a mobile phone wasn’t really all that mobile. Kids today will probably laugh if you told them that there was no Internet when you were a kid. If you sometimes print out your email, you are probably a digital immigrant. If you are not sure what to “dial a number” means, you are probably a digital native.


A day in the life of a kid today consists of many digital interactions. It doesn’t take many minutes from the time they get out of bed, until they have checked their phone for notifications and messages. I call it Time to Screen. Check for yourself, what is your daily Time to Screen? From the time you wake up till you interact with the first screen, see the first email, SMS or turn off the alarm?


Once they arrive to school, the kids take turns streaming new songs and showing each other the funniest videos on YouTube. This is another way of being social with the help of the Internet. However, the biggest influence on kids is the online interaction they have with each other. For kids the digital currency is not Bitcoin, but can be summed up more as the social digital currency of “Likes”, “+1s”, “Hearts” and other positive symbols of things they have posted online.

There is also the question of identity when it comes to our younger generation and digital technology, especially concerning their online life. Social media is just as important for youth, as it is for adults, but there is a shift happening on social media platforms like Facebook. In recent years Facebook has seen declining numbers from teens due to the fact that their parents are on Facebook as well, prompting the teens to seek out other platforms like Snapchat, Reddit, and Tumblr, which are free of their parents’ prying eyes. As a young person, it’s still not cool to hang out with your parents, not even online.


The life of kids online is not only about consuming content; it is also about producing content. It has never been easier to produce and distribute content than it is now. All they need is a computer or a mobile phone and Internet. They produce everything; from short Vine videos to Instagram pictures, ephemeral Snapchats and even high quality videos that they make and distribute from the comfort of their own bedroom. Some of these videos go on to have millions of views, and that is pretty amazing. This is a very visual way to communicate and interact, compared to the more text heavy communication that the digital immigrants have grown up with.


Kids have come to expect a free flow of information, and they are not afraid of diving into it to find what they need. If they want to learn something or figure something out, chances are that Google will answer faster and more precisely than the closest person, which is a very motivating factor for going online to find what you are looking for.


Immigrants vs. Natives

How are we, the immigrants, supposed to communicate with the natives? There are always Luddites lurking somewhere, even in the digital era. As a digital immigrant, standing on the side watching all these digital natives racing by, you might think:  Are there any downsides to all of this? To all these screens that separate us and these machines that automagically make stuff happen? How about the tendency to be “Liked” rather than liked?


What we have to remember is that the natives perceive information differently, in a more visual way, and multitasking and running parallel processes are integral to their way of working. This also means that they don’t differentiate between being online and offline, but are just always online.


Luckily, we are all still humans, the kids are not aliens from a digital planet, but we have to keep an eye on the different trends that move ever so fast online. We have to figure out new and exciting ways to create content for children, while keeping in mind that we are creating content for digital natives. Collaborating with them and meeting them on their own terms might give new insight into the project you’re developing. This doesn’t mean that classic ways of storytelling are outdated. On the contrary, it is just the form that has changed. The most important aspect of it all is not to underestimate the natives and their potential.


Our children are ready for the future, but we, the digital immigrants, must learn and adapt to the new digital language. We can still be proud of our non-digital background and have the natives help us out and integrate us.