“In pre-history, we were born to a tribe and there ended the question of identity or purpose. In today’s hyper-networked world, a digital native can no longer take his identity for granted. He has to keep earning it – or lose himself in the process.”
Our definition of being a native has undergone a drastic change. Once upon a time, native would imply belonging to that region and a practising member of that land’s customs, traditions and mannerisms. Adopting your region’s ethos and having an inherent (but vague) sense of where you stood in the grand narrative of the locality and its community was what gave you a feeling of belonging.
Of course, a native just was. She never understood why she formed part of the community, the politics of why she occupied a particular position in social status or work hierarchy, or lost sleep over finding her true place in life. It had nothing to do with desire or rationale, and everything to do with the astrology (accident more like it) of birth. If you were born to a particular family in a particular tribe, that’s it, your course of action in life is determined at birth. I guess, all this is ancient history.
In today’s world, it would be dangerous to not question this inevitable ‘place’ we occupy in a community. Nothing is taken for granted. It is acceptable to question obligations. We don’t belong to our native lands purely for the reasons of continuity, morality or obviousness – least of all due to the accident of birth. And belonging here doesn’t imply physicality, inherited surnames or matching tribe characteristics. Without the answers that the rational reasoning of WHY provides, our generation spits on an assumed emphasis of being a native just because of genetics.
The crown of digital native rests uneasily on most of us for the same reasons. The children of the 80’s grew up on video games and Sony Walkmans. I don’t remember using any other ‘gadget’ for a long time that was termed digital until we got a PC home in 1996. It wasn’t inevitable that we adopted the new technology; rather, it was a conscious decision to use it, probe it, understand it, and ultimately, master it. For a long time, owning a PC at home meant understanding the politics of middle class pride and ambitions, fixating over a box that only a handful of people in my neighbourhood had even heard of (forget owned) and doing cool stuff through it.
Gradually, the list of cool stuff that the rainbow coloured box-brain could accomplish dazzled us. Programming, animation and the World Wide Web took ascendancy and we set about conquering new paths of learning. It was a progression, from point A – admiring a new technology – to point B – harnessing it and manipulating it. It was natural and inevitable, once you got home a PC. We slowly began transferring all our school work, monthly errands, work, play and other spaces to the online world.
I am happy that today I navigate through cyberspace with ease. It comes out of years of practice and is also marked by many personal revolutions of learning, failing, pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable or not in the online world, and calling it a home away from home. This home has its rules, customs, traditions, ethos and rites of passage. I feel more a part of this native digital world than my own village or ancestral house where generations of my family grew up! And the people from the physical village feel ever more distances from this “wonder” of technology.
Surprisingly, if you ask me to put a finger on that spot, the moment that marked the transition from being an explorer of a new world to becoming its native, then hands down I wouldn’t know when or how it happened. This is a complete reversal of how we understand or claim identity. In real life, in your native home, you already know what you are, where you are headed in life and your relationship to the native community members. Guess it’s the complete opposite in cyberspace; here you “decide” what you are first and then go about strengthening that character with pick-and-choose attributes that reaffirm your digital identity. Welcome to my native place, online.Hits:843