Digital Native

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Who is a Digital Native?

A digital native is someone who was born after the widespread adoption of digital technology, like the Internet, computers, and mobile devices and was exposed to technology at an early age.


Not all children born today are digital natives by default; interacting regularly with technology at a young age is the deciding factor. This exposure to technology in the early years is believed to give digital natives a greater familiarity with and understanding of technology than people who were born before it was widespread.

This familiarity extends to various digital tools, including accounting software, which many digital natives find easy to use for managing finances efficiently.

Who is a Digital Native?

Key Takeaways

  • Digital natives are people born after the widespread adoption of digital technology and who were exposed to tech at an early age.
  • Mark Prensky first popularized the phrase “digital native” in 2001, arguing that young people need media-rich learning environments to retain their attention.
  • Digital natives include Gen Z, Gen Alpha, and other groups based on the extent of exposure to technology.
  • Digital natives are comfortable using digital devices, are individualistic, can multitask or switch tasks quickly, and are realistic.
  • They have influenced the workplace through social media, innovative ideas, cloud adoption, and changing software application delivery.

History of Digital Natives

Marc Prensky, an educational consultant, first popularized the phrase “digital native” in 2001, arguing that the speed at which new technologies are adopted and then quickly abandoned is changing how students process information.

Prensky believed that young people need media-rich learning environments to retain their attention.

He later preferred “digital wisdom”, while others argued that labels oversimplify differences.

Digital Natives Groups

Digital natives can be grouped into different age categories and categories based on the extent of their exposure to technology.

Here are some digital native groups based on age categories:

Generation Z (born mid-1990s to early 2010s)
Early adopters of smartphones, high-speed Internet, and social media
Generation Alpha (born the early 2010s to mid-2020s)
Born into a pretty much fully-fledged technological society, with aspects like the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and smart devices being the norm, making them highly dependent on technology for education and entertainment.
Other digital native groups include those based on the extent of exposure:
Early Childhood Digital Natives (Ages 0-5)
These children are exposed to tech at very young ages, with the use of tablets and smartphones for educational apps and digital games
School-Age Digital Natives (Ages 6-12)
Tech is being used for school and entertainment, so these children are very comfortable with online learning platforms, gaming, and social media for socializing. 
Teen Digital Natives
Teenage digital natives rely on smartphones to do pretty much everything: socialize, relax, learn, and play. They often create their own content to participate in online communities
Young Adult Digital Natives
Technology is used for work, education, and social interactions. These digital natives are comfortable working in digital workplaces and adjust quickly to new tech. 

Digital Native Characteristics

Digital natives:

  • Are comfortable using digital devices. These devices are used both for leisure and as a requirement in educational or work settings.
  • Are generally individualistic.
  • Can multitask or switch tasks quickly, as needed.
  • Are realistic, focusing more on their reality due to economic uncertainty and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Children today are more likely to be familiar with the terminology of the digital world. This isn’t to say they will intuitively understand computer programming or how a network transmits data. They will, however, be better placed to understand these technologies as they will have seen them in action many times.

Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants

Controversy surrounds the concept of digital natives, with many teachers being digital immigrants who were exposed to technology later in life. Some argue that digital natives need to be taught differently due to their early exposure to technology and their accustomed use of technology for repetitive tasks.

Key Differences Between Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants:


Learning StylesProblem-Solving ApproachesCommunication Preferences

Digital natives prefer to learn in a multimedia learning environment. Digital immigrants might be more comfortable in a traditional teaching setting, in text-based or lecture-based instruction.

Digital natives immediately turn to technology to solve any problem, while digital immigrants are more likely to rely on traditional methods.

Digital natives tend to use instant messaging, social media, and other digital communication tools. Digital immigrants often prefer face-to-face communication, such as phone calls or emails.

Digital Natives’ Impact on the Labor Market

Organizations must understand and leverage the strengths of the digitally native workforce to adapt to the digital age. Integrating this generation into the larger workforce can help create a corporate culture that values lifelong learning, embraces technological advances, and thrives in a digital environment.

Constant Connection
The digital-born generation values being connected and expects a smooth transition between personal and professional digital interactions – which is why employers must invest in strong mobile networks and platforms.
Flexible Working
One key feature of the digitally native workforce is a preference for flexible working arrangements. Businesses must invest in mobile applications and collaboration tools that support remote work.
Security and Privacy
The digitally native workforce prioritizes security and privacy, so firms must implement effective security protocols. This includes using secure mobile applications, encrypting communication channels, and implementing device management techniques.
Tech Autonomy
Allowing the digitally native workforce to choose their own IT equipment ensures it aligns with their specific tech preferences. 

Digital Natives in the Business World

Digital natives are known for making several important contributions to the workplace, including:

Social Media Influence
Because digital natives are so familiar with it, social media has become a key marketing tool. A strong social media strategy is crucial for building great brand recognition.
Innovative Ideas
Digital natives can bring new ideas to the workplace. Younger workers can offer fresh perspectives and ideas to a company, like new technologies or ways to set up the workplace.
Adoption of the Cloud
Digital natives are often credited with pushing for cloud adoption. From a consumer point of view, digital natives saw the benefits of the cloud and supported the move to cloud platforms.
Smartphone Usage Impact
As digital natives use smartphones more often, the way software applications are delivered to consumers has changed. The term ‘application’ used to mean desktop apps, but now it also means mobile apps because younger generations use mobile devices. Also, as digital natives got used to certain interfaces, they developed a skill for understanding small cues in graphic design.

Digital Native Challenges and Opportunities

  • Digital natives are constantly bombarded with information from various sources, making it hard to focus.
  • Growing up online means digital natives are more likely to share personal information, raising privacy concerns.
  • With easy access to technology, digital natives are at a higher risk of developing addictive behaviors related to social media, gaming, and other online activities.
  • Digital natives are naturally good at using technology, which means they can quickly learn new tools and adapt to technological changes.
  • Familiarity with digital tools allows digital natives to think creatively and develop innovative solutions to problems.
  • The Internet allows digital natives to work remotely, network globally, and exchange cultures digitally.

The Bottom Line

The digital native definition revolves around someone who was exposed to technology from an early age, making them adept at understanding and navigating new technologies.

Digital natives tend to thrive in today’s workforce, as they find it easy to pick up new tools and interfaces required for their jobs.


What is digital native in simple terms?

What are examples of digital natives?

Why are Gen Z called digital natives?

What best describes a digital native?



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Tim Keary
Technology Specialist
Tim Keary
Technology Specialist

Tim Keary is a freelance technology writer and reporter covering AI, cybersecurity, and enterprise technology. Before joining Techopedia full-time in 2023, his work appeared on VentureBeat, Forbes Advisor, and other notable technology platforms, where he covered the latest trends and innovations in technology.