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Keywords:

  • cell-phone;
  • critique;
  • ‘digital native’;
  • discourse

Abstract

This paper interrogates the currently pervasive discourse of the ‘net generation’ finding the concept of the ‘digital native’ especially problematic, both empirically and conceptually. We draw on a research project of South African higher education students' access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to show that age is not a determining factor in students' digital lives; rather, their familiarity and experience using ICTs is more relevant. We also demonstrate that the notion of a generation of ‘digital natives’ is inaccurate: those with such attributes are effectively a digital elite. Instead of a new net generation growing up to replace an older analogue generation, there is a deepening digital divide in South Africa characterized not by age but by access and opportunity; indeed, digital apartheid is alive and well. We suggest that the possibility for digital democracy does exist in the form of a mobile society which is not age specific, and which is ubiquitous. Finally, we propose redefining the concepts ‘digital’, ‘net’, ‘native’, and ‘generation’ in favour of reclaiming the term ‘digitizen’.