Week 7 Musings – Generation Y: Are they really digital natives or more like digital refugees?

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In Barbara Combes’ article (2009) ‘Generation Y: Are they really digital natives of more like digital refugees?’, she discusses the societal perception that all Generation Y and upwards are efficient users of technology.

She highlights findings from a study by Pew Internet & American Life Project which suggest that while teenagers feel comfortable using the Internet to locate information, they typically have limited knowledge or ability to use search engines to find information. I thought this was an interesting point and one that I could certainly relate to. Until recently, I had no idea about Boolean and proximity operators, or how truncation and wildcard operators worked. It also took me some time to figure out that each search engine has its own unique set of rules. It took me until I was at university to learn about these search strategies, and only then, it was out of necessity. The point that I make here, and also the point that Combes (2009) makes in her article is that just because someone hails from Generation Y does not mean that they are competent users of technology.

In her article, Combes’ (2009, p. 36) refers to the work of Scanlon (2009) who suggests that the so-called digital natives may actually be becoming digital refugees as they struggle to independently learn how to use modern technology. I have certainly felt frustration about being inept at using technology, however my knowledge of the inquiry process, combined with a genuine need to learn has helped me to persist at becoming a much more proficient user, and learner for that matter. This is also reflected in Combes’ article when she points out that one of the common characteristics of Generation Y technology users is that they pick and choose technologies to suit their need at the time (Combes, 2009, p 38).

Finally, Combes (2009, p 38) stresses the need for Generation Y to become proficient users of technology and suggests that if they cannot master the skills required to do this, they along with future generations, run the risk of becoming digital refuges like all generations before them.


Combes, B. (2009). Generation Y: Are they really digital natives or more like digital refugees? Synergy, 7(1), 31-40.

Scanlon, C. (2009) ‘The Natives Aren’t Quite so Restless’ in The Australian Higher Education Supplement. Retrieved from https://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/opinion/the-natives-arent-quite-so-restless/news-story/a9f5d801fabb29f1673deb696a49e724

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