Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Digital Natives, Digital Savages, and immigration

It has been a while since I’ve written about “Digital Natives”, but Krypt3ia’s recent post Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Exo-Nationals and The Digital Lord of The Flies has me thinking about it again.  He raises some great points in that post, and I would like to add a few thoughts of my own.  If you haven’t seen it already, take a few minutes to read Krypt3ia’s post, and I’ll meet you back here.

I think about the generational issues in technology and security, and only partly because I’m old.  Generational anomalies have intrigued me since I was a kid.  Back then I had a realization about my peers, I believe there were effectively two generations of the same age- those of use who were “late babies” of folks who went through World War II, and those who were the children of younger parents.  Those of us whose parents fought the war (mom flew in the WASP, dad served in the Navy) seemed to straddle the generation between our older siblings (the real Baby Boomers) and our peers.  If you know folks born in the late 50s or early 60s float this idea past them and see what they say.  Enough tangent, back on topic Jack.

Caution: metaphor and analogy abuse ahead, with some stereotyping thrown in for added color.  And I sound like an old fart.  Which I am.

First, those who have grown up with computer technology, the Digital Natives, have a level of familiarity and comfort with technology which is often mistaken for expertise- but for many the expertise is superficial at best.  Those of us who work in technology, especially in security, are often amazed by the brilliant young people around us- but we forget they are anomalies, not the norm.  The ability to grok the latest changes to Facebook does not equate to an understanding of web technology as much as it displays a level of comfort and familiarity.

That familiarity can be a problem- familiarity removes fear, and a lack of fear leads to excessive trust.  This should be a critical concern for those involved in security and privacy.  The familiarity and comfort often translates into people with amazing proficiency in technology, and a level of effectiveness that is astounding- just don’t forget to assess the security awareness of those young folks.

And about that effectiveness, it is not ubiquitous- let’s talk about your local gas stations, convenience stores, budget hotels, and livery services…  Yeah, if we’re going to use words like “natives” for people who have grown up with tech and “immigrants” for us old farts I am going there.  Dismissing “immigrants” is stupid, they (we) often fill niches in the economy that natives do not, for whatever reason.  The same is certainly true for technology.  It would be easy resort to ignorant claims about natives’ aversion to hard work- but that is certainly not true in tech, and the work on stress and burnout I’ve been involved in proves that.  It is also true that many “immigrants” will never master the level of understanding of new technology that will be required to keep up in the rapidly changing world of technology, but it is also true that those who have survived the workplace for a few decades are more likely to be able to effectively deal with the harsh realities of working for a living after surviving it all these years.

OK then, what’s your point Jack?  I’m not sure I have one, other than a sweeping generalization warning against buying in to sweeping generalizations.  If I were a better person I would suggest more cooperation and communication between generations to help each other adapt to the challenges we face, but that’s not my style.


And get off my lawn.