How will digital natives leverage their technology advantages?

There is a digital gap among users within the technology space split into two groups: digital natives and digital immigrants. Essentially, a digital native is an individual born in the 1980s or later who has grown up surrounded by multiple mediums of technology and experienced the evolution of technology, whereas a digital immigrant is someone born prior to 1980 who had to acquire his or her familiarity with the digital world.

Digital natives possess an inherent advantage over digital immigrants because they are native speakers of the digital age. They have been comfortable engaging and interacting with technology and are generally enthusiastic participants. For context, I am one of those digital natives, having been born in the year Windows 3.1 was released. My family owned one computer running that operating system on a black and white monitor. I was mesmerised by this machine as I watched my dad use it. This early exposure to technology fundamentally changed the way I would learn and communicate, as compared to my parents. To put things into further perspective, the first iPhone came out in 2007. Since that year, we have seen at least one new generation of iPhone emerge every year. This palm-sized device connects us globally and answers our on-demand questions. As digital natives, we grew up having this unprecedented power at our fingertips. These advancements in learning and communicating have provided us with major advantages, both in our personal lives and in the workplace.

As we move toward the next decade and digital natives grow further into their careers, it will be fascinating to see how their backgrounds reshape the enterprise landscape. In a new survey from global professional association ISACA looking ahead to the tech landscape of the 2020s, a majority of the respondents expect the ascent of digital natives to result in cybersecurity becoming a higher priority, enterprises becoming more proactive about deploying emerging technologies, boards of directors becoming more technology-savvy, security and privacy by design becoming ingrained in most technology builds and employees using mobile devices more than laptops or desktop computers.

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A culture of inclusivity

While it’s impossible to predict exactly how digital natives will affect enterprises in the new decade, the impact will be substantial based on our unique experiences and approach to learning. Accessibility and convenience are the drivers of the way digital natives learn today. One can obtain an entire post-secondary education online, which was unheard of 20 years ago. This has been a major turning point for many people, as they are now able to afford higher levels of education without leaving their hometowns. Because of the option to learn online, I was able to obtain a specialised graduate degree from a top-tier out-of-state school, while working full-time without having to relocate. The convenience factor allowed me to learn on my own time, without sacrificing my career or incurring the expenses of moving. This new way of customising one’s learning experience and being able to access it through countless mediums (laptop, phone, tablet, etc.) has made it more convenient to upskill the workforce.

Furthermore, education has become an interactive experience where one can choose not only what subject matter they would like to learn, but also how the material is presented to them, in order to accommodate their preferred individual learning style (visual, auditory, and/or kinesthetic). This shift in technological advances for learning and development has created a culture of inclusivity for people of all levels of ability. For example, a family friend, who was born around the release of Windows 7, has Rett syndrome and utilises a Tobii (which is an eye-tracking technology) to learn at school and communicate with her family and friends, even though she is non-verbal. This provides an opportunity for children with communication delays who would not have been able to accomplish this previously.

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Be a curious learner

Instantaneous communication has become the norm for digital natives. From email and text messaging, to sharing content on social media platforms, people are more connected to one another than they have ever been before. This open connectivity has allowed for sharing of ideas and knowledge across the globe. My sister, who was born between Windows 95 and 98 releases, is a researcher who can share her results on different forums and reach out to researchers across the globe who are working on the same type of genetic projects as she is. This advancement in communication can eliminate duplication of efforts or help in discovery of new clues that could lead to new genetic insights.

Additionally, new ways of communicating have unlocked new collaboration skills for digital natives, which digital immigrants have not experienced growing up. My brother, who was born in the year Windows 2000 was released, has been collaborating with people from all over the world through the world of gaming. Communicating with people located in different time zones, cultures, and customs is second-nature to him. He is able to team up with his digital friends in strategy-based games, where they set a common goal and work as a group to achieve it. While I described the gaming world quite poetically (file under: “how to convince mom that video games are good for you”), these are the skills that he will be able to seamlessly translate into the corporate world, as he enters the workforce after college.

Being immersed in the digital world for all of one’s life has its advantages. As digital natives increasingly ascend into leadership roles, the question becomes, will digital natives utilise these advantages to their fullest potential? My simple suggestion to utilise digital fluency is to be a curious learner. We can’t stop learning after we cross the stage at graduation or check off a certification. We must ask questions that Google has not yet answered and connect with people who might live across the globe, putting our penchant for collaboration to good use in confronting the world’s challenges. In the new decade, the pace at which digital natives have grown comfortable learning and communicating puts us in prime position to find creative ways to challenge the status quo and find new solutions that can uplift our organisations and society.