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Is age a factor when utilizing social media?

Social media through digital technology can be fun, interactive and exciting. However, it can also be daunting, overwhelming and confusing. The question is; is age a factor when determining how you feel about social media?

That answer can be defined by understanding the difference between a digital native and a digital immigrant. These terms have been introduced by Marc Prensky, an innovator within the study of education.

Digital natives are born into technology. These individuals will be raised with social media and digital technology as part of their lives every day. Social media and digital technology will become a part of their education and will be a learning tool as they grow up. Many aspects of the education system that our past generations have followed will no longer apply to future generations. Understanding these changes within our education is crucial. Prensky describes these changes in a humorous yet fascinating way. Read more on Prensky, Digital Natives, and Digital Immigrants.

Digital immigrants are individuals that have adapted to their environment as it changes. They have been challenged with the task of retaining new information as the digital world grows. Some individuals have chosen to reject the new digital technology and others only use it if necessary. Unlike digital natives, digital immigrants will choose to read a newspaper instead of downloading the latest news app.

So, what are the most significant skills that digital immigrants must learn in order keep up with the fast pace digital natives? Two of the most important are; understanding digital language, and learning to use digital software.

A different language:
Parent: “Son, what’s a hashtag?” Son: “LOL”

There are new additions to the human language every day. Digital natives seem to create and communicate with the new additions naturally while digital immigrants are sometimes left wondering what they mean. The language of the future can be described by two words, an abbreviation and hashtag.

Digital natives can communicate a whole conversation based on abbreviations and hashtags - something that digital immigrants must adapt to and retain. This is one of the biggest gaps between digital natives and digital immigrants. This language should be adapted by all digital immigrants because it’s the future of communication. As instant messaging, Facebook and Twitter continue to grow, so do the forms of communication that attach themselves to these social media outlets.

A new form of content:
The challenge of learning new software

This is one of the most significant factors when adapting to new technology and to new communication methods.

Unlike digital natives, digital immigrants have to learn new skills at an age when retaining information isn’t as easy. Individuals in their 40’s and 50’s may have too many other things in their lives by then to bother playing around with software programs. Digital natives are learning new programs and software at a time when their brain is like a sponge. They can intake the information faster and retain it easier.

This introduces the question of whether digital natives are the preferred candidates for Social Media Managers.  Cathryn Sloane, blogger and student at the University of Iowa became well known after her blog post, Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be under 25.

Digital natives may have an advantage over digital immigrants, but don’t forget: an old dog can learn new tricks. Just because digital immigrants have to learn and retain the information at an older age doesn’t mean digital natives are better operators of the software.

I think it depends on an individual’s skill-sets and personality. It isn’t all about knowing how to operate computer software or deciphering social media lingo. These skills are just two of many assets an individual needs to be a communications professional.  

The most important life lesson to take away from this is to know that digital natives and digital immigrants can learn from each other. I am a digital native but there are even younger digital natives that will one day teach me something. As an intern, there are many digital immigrants that I will meet and they too will teach me something.

We are not born with knowledge, knowledge is taught. Therefore, we are all immigrants to the world of knowledge. There is always more to learn.

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