Digital Natives and the Digital Divide

What exactly is it to be digitally literate? This question begs for a contentious definition. It is through misleading concepts such as the ‘digital native’ and the ‘digital divide’ that one can find the crux of what it is to be ‘digitally literate.’

Cognitive, technical and social-emotional (Ng 2012, pg.1067) factors create an inextricable composite of what it is to be ‘digitally literate.’ Therefore, it can be argued that proficiency in just one of these sectors, for example having ‘netiquette’ (Ng 2012, pg.1068) on social media platforms, does not qualify an individual as digitally literate. In fact, Kirschner’s study found that ‘digital natives’ used “social media was used as a passive source of information reception” (2017, pg.137). The assumption that digital natives are inherently ‘digitally literate’ is therefore flawed. By engaging ‘passively’ with social media platforms, the individual fails to participate in the ‘technical’ realm of what it is to be digitally literate, as social media is neglected “as a tool for actively creating content, interacting with others, and sharing resources” (Kirschner 2017, pg.137). The ease in which one navigates social media, as say, a source of entertainment or distraction, does not quantify one as digitally literate. To be digitally literate is a combination of consumption and production, not merely passive reception.

The nature of ‘digital literacy’ is also carved out by the concept of the ‘digital divide.’  Huffman suggests that the ‘digital divide,’ is not a concept exclusively reserved to those who have no access to the internet and those who do, but rather, the divide concerns ‘digital ability;’ “the… digital divide is no longer about the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ but ‘who can use it’ and ‘who cannot’” (Huffman 2018, pg.243). Rennie’s article highlights this point as this, as researches who provided technology to indigenous communities living in outstations realised “even with computers, some people did not have the necessary skills or motivation to make use of them” (Rennie 2016, pg.33)  Much like the concept of the ‘digital native,’ the argument that access to and immersion within technology equals inherent ‘digital literacy,’ is flawed. Therefore, the lack of infrastructure in rural communities is a mere physical obstruction to becoming digitally literate, the equivalent of having no book to read, when this has no bearing on an individual who is illiterate.


  • Huffman, S (2018): “The Digital Divide Revisited: What Is Next?”, Education, 138 No. 3 pp. 239-246
  • Kirschner, P. A. & De Bruyckere, P. (2017): “The myths of the digital native and the multitasker”, Teaching and Teacher Education, v67, 135-142.
  • Ng, W (2012): “Can we teach digital natives digital literacy?”, Computers & education, v59n3, pp. 1065-1078
  • Rennie, E., Hogan, E., Gregory, R. Crouch, R., Wright, A. & Thomas, J. 2016, ‘Introduction’, Internet on the Outstation: The Digital Divide and Remote Aboriginal Communities, pp.13-27.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s