You Can’t Define a Digital Native by Their Age

Written by Mary Sue Rogers | Originally published at Save HR blog.


Mary Sue Rogers, globally recognized leader in HR and Talent Management, owns blog at

We hear the term digital native on a frequent basis. And the CHRO receives a lot of input on how to make the systems and process of HR fit for a digital native. And the assumption is that a digital native is one that grew up with the Internet, smartphones, Facebook and similar. But is that the definition of a digital native? Or is a digital native more a state of mind and how you reach and use the technology around you? The latter is the theory put forward by Constellation’s researcher Alan Lepofsky – Segmenting Audiences by Digital Proficiency.

As I am not a paid up member of Constellation I can only get the abstract, and then supplemented that with the Bill Kutik’s Firing Line interview with Ray Wang. I am sure the full paper is excellent based on the summary.

So Alan’s premise is that how knowledgeable you are in the use of digital tools and how comfortable you are in using them determines your level of digital proficiency and therefore whether you are a “digital native”.

Like all good consulting models – it starts with a four-box model that is Y axis of Comfort and an X axis of Knowledge. And like all four box models – the top right-hand corner are individuals who have lots of knowledge regarding digital, they are good at it, and they want to use it. The bottom left-hand corner is those that are not good at it and don’t want to use it. You can fill out the others.

And then based on these characteristics, Alan has developed names for the various types of digital users.

Natives – the top right-hand corner.  Know how to use the technology and enjoy using it. Not an age definition but one of knowledge and comfort.
Holdouts – the bottom left-hand corner – those individuals that don’t want to use technology and don’t like doing it. Again I know people at a wide spectrum of ages that meet this definition.
Immigrants – these are individuals that want to be good at it but are not there yet. They are comfortable with the technology and want to learn. My mother-in-law at the age of 80 would fall into this category.
Disengaged – those that are good at it but don’t want to use it. I know many individuals in this group, especially millennials.
Voyeurs – Those that wander between the various quadrants depending on their mood and the subject.

If this segmentation is used instead of the one described digital natives instead of age – then perhaps we can be more focused on what type of employees we do have, and what is the right thing to do for our business around digital, social, learning and culture.

Constellation Research recommends using a combination of a person’s knowledge and comfort level with technology, a characteristic referred to as Digital Proficiency.

Read more in Who Are the Real Five Generations in the Workplace? Bill Kutik‘s article on the subject, posted on Human Resource Executive Online.

Image – Word Cloud created by Marc Prensky.

Source: You Can’t Define a Digital Native by Their Age

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