Digital natives and immigrants: the generation gap widens with technology

Digital natives and immigrants: the generation gap widens with technology

During the 1980s and 1990s, many parents observed their children's technological adventures from a distance. They supported them, providing them with computers, video games or computer classes, but, if it was not for work or accused technophilia , they remained on the sidelines: those new technologies were typical of youth, and they had to stay in the known: televisions, VHS videos, telephones wireless, dishwasher.

But lo and behold, in the mid-90s that roaring modem internet arrived and the world began to change dramatically, in all areas and for all people, no matter how old they were. An intergenerational gap was generated that divided an increasingly digitized society and completely dependent on a new organ in our body: the smartphone . How does each generation now relate to technology?

To address these chasms, new categories were defined. On the one hand, digital natives, those young people born (approximately) from 1990, who have developed from the cradle in a technological environment: they move with ease in virtual space, they are hyper-connected and they are in favor of “do it yourself ”. On the other hand, digital immigrants: the older generations who come from that distant previous world, calm and analog, pre-Internet. They are involved in technology, sure, but in a more orthopedic and less instinctive way. Many times they feel uncomfortable or out of place, as if the train was too fast or they were not invited to this party.

More finely, a study by Icemd, the innovation institute of the ESIC business school, defines up to six generations in relationship with technology based on how they communicate, how they consume content or how they buy. The silent generation (born between 1925 and 1944) is the least familiar with technology, the one who needs the most advice, the most exposed to fraud, and the least accustomed to the concepts of privacy. Baby boomers (between 1945 and 1964) often have a desire to participate in digital life and, in fact, have joined social networks, especially Facebook, and audiovisual platforms. 42% of Spanish parents regularly consult their technological doubts with their already independent children, according to an investigation by the cybersecurity company Kaspersky. 16% of parents miss their children's technological knowledge more than their company.

Next, according to the aforementioned study, carried out by Coolhunting Consulting Group, other generations follow each other increasingly integrated in the technological fact, such as generation X (1965-1979) or millennials (1980-2000). They are adults who work, buy and carry out activities through technology with all normality. The youngest and now fully digital are generation Z (2001-2011), which is paving the way with its innovations, addicted to memes, selfies, emojis and all the colorful pixelated (and the one with the least capacity care conserves); and the Alpha generation (since 2012), young children whose development is already completely linked to screens, with the uncertainty and concern that this generates, as it is not clear how much exposure to technology is necessary and beneficial for the little ones. Are we raising post- human addicts?

Looking for

spaces The younger generations are often technologically incomprehensible to the older ones, who are always going to slipstream. Because technology not only serves as a tool, but as a way of generating an identity, as a lifestyle, as a way of being in the world. Each one looks for his place and sometimes the technological panorama is stratified by age. "Young people need their spaces and they are always fleeing from the elderly, who want to be young," explains Jorge Benedicto, professor of Sociology at the UNED and former president of the Research Committee on Youth Studies. "You can see it, for example, on social networks: they left Facebook to land on Instagram, from which they now move to Snapchat, TikTok and other applications." Technology is today a form of identification and differentiation as for other generations were music or the way of dressing.

"Young people feel more comfortable in the world of the future, and thus generate in adults a certain insecurity, because they do not fully dominate technology, digital culture and new forms of communication," says Carles Feixa, Professor of Anthropology from the Pompeu Fabra University. Depending on their age, for example, there are those who do not understand the communicative code of the most famous YouTubers or streamers , which can be overwhelmed and banal. One of them, Ibai Llanos, had more audience on New Year's Eve than the traditional bells broadcast on television: half a million people saw him. Many members of the older generations are unaware of its existence. This cultural schism could even generate a certain juvenile phobia , like the one we witness in recent times with the public treatment of the new generations during the pandemic, labeled as irresponsible and crazy . "It could be a defensive reaction against the new hordes that are on the border," adds Feixa.

Of course, the tribe of digital natives is not homogeneous. "There are important differences, some do not want to know anything about technology unless it is essential," says Jordi Busquet Duran, professor of sociology at the Ramon Llull University and head of the Eidos research network. Even, he says, there may be, given the speed of technological change, a gap between younger and older siblings. "And not only the technological capacity changes, but the modes of use, the ways in which people interact," says Busquet. "This also influences the digital divide, which is, after all, a new form of inequality." The most important factor in this inequality is not socioeconomic, although it also matters, but the cultural level and technological training

'Age tech' and 'silver economy'

The baby boom generated a large market of young people to sell to goods and services: thus was born the youth culture, aesthetics, music and ideologies that emerged in the stormy 60s and whose spirit still permeates society, in the form of cool modernity. Now the population pyramid is reversing: there will be more and more older people. And the silver economy is dedicated to her. "At least in non-covid times, those over 50 have greater purchasing power, more time available, better distribution between work, leisure and consumption, or greater predisposition to socialize," explains sociologist Juan Carlos Alcaide, professor at ESIC and author of Silver economy. Over 65: the new target (Editorial Lid). Within that economy, technology is counted, increasingly focused on all ages and that has always tried to simplify its operation to reach more demographic groups. The increase in longevity, the delay of physical and mental deterioration and active aging, which promotes fulfilling many years without stopping participating and enjoying life, are other ingredients of this cocktail.

To improve the lives of the elderly is dedicates the age tech . "New technologies can help combat the tremendous epidemic of loneliness through communication applications, and they can also help a lot in the field of what is already called telehealth," says Alcaide. With technology, it is possible, for example, to monitor the biometric data of a person and give medical assistance remotely. Robotics, home automation, artificial intelligence or virtual reality can also make old age more bearable.

On the worst side of the matter, "we are facing a real demographic drama, related to pensions and the collapse of public health" , Alcaide explains, "probably part of the solution lies in technology: in this scenario, we must invest publicly and privately in innovation." Older people will be the users of these technologies, from which they will draw care, advice and comfort in their own home

The pandemic has accelerated the digitization of society and encouraged the spread of telework, so that differences in the use of technology between generations could be filed down. Will this digital divide be one-off in history and will it end when we are all digital natives? Theoretically, this could be the case, although the technological and cultural gradient is so pronounced that the gap could perpetuate itself until it becomes a constant.

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