It’s possible that the analogy multiple professors pointed to — filing cabinets — is no longer useful since many students Drossman’s age spent their high school years storing documents in the likes of OneDrive and Dropbox rather than in physical spaces. It could also have to do with the other software they’re accustomed to — dominant smartphone apps like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube all involve pulling content from a vast online sea rather than locating it within a nested hierarchy. “When I want to scroll over to Snapchat, Twitter, they’re not in any particular order, but I know exactly where they are,” says Vogel, who is a devoted iPhone user. Some of it boils down to muscle memory.
Although it can be easy to suggest that ‘digital natives’ may not be digitally native, we also need to consider the ever changing nature digital literacies.
A cynic could blame generational incompetence. An international 2018 study that measured eighth-graders’ “capacities to use information and computer technologies productively” proclaimed that just 2 percent of Gen Z had achieved the highest “digital native” tier of computer literacy. “Our students are in deep trouble,” one educator wrote.
But the issue is likely not that modern students are learning fewer digital skills, but rather that they’re learning different ones. Guarín-Zapata, for all his knowledge of directory structure, doesn’t understand Instagram nearly as well as his students do, despite having had an account for a year. He’s had students try to explain the app in detail, but “I still can’t figure it out,” he complains.
I think another example of this change in regards to digital literacies is the dependency on such applications like Google Maps to provide algorithmic ally generated directions. Although I find it useful to know that there might be accident ahead and an alternate path for getting around it, I also like to have a rough idea about the direction I am travelling.