Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses among Members of the ‘‘Net Generation’’

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In addition to looking at how users’ background characteristics and online experiences relate to Web activities, Hargittai and Hinnant (2008) also measured and thus were able to look at the relationship of skills and uses arguing that online abilities would likely influence how people use the medium (Kling 1998; Wilson 2000). Indeed, findings from that study suggest a strong positive rela- tionship between these two variables whereby higher skills are associated with more capital-enhancing online activities.

Consistent in the literature is that both age (e.g., Jones and Fox 2009; Loges and Jung 2001) and education (e.g., Hargittai and Hinnant 2008; Howard, Rainie, and Jones 2001) are important predictors of varied Internet usage.

Certain differences in Americans’ Internet uses have been widely docu- mented over the years, including the importance of age and education in whether people are online.

While popular rhetoric would have us believe that young users are generally savvy with digital media, data presented in this article clearly show that considerable variation exists even among fully wired college students when it comes to understanding various aspects of In- ternet use. Moreover, these differences are not randomly distributed. Students of lower socioeconomic status, women, students of Hispanic origin, and Afri- can Americans exhibit lower levels of Web know-how than others.

differentiated contexts of uses and experiences may explain these variations so it is important to examine those associations as well. Indeed, as the analyses presented in this article suggest, autonomy of use and Web user experience are both positively related to skill. However, even when controlling for these factors, skill differences remain by type of user background.

Regarding diverse types of Internet uses, results suggest that those from a lower socioeconomic background, women, and students of Hispanic origin tend to engage in fewer information-seeking activities online on a regular basis than others.

Overall, the results of this study show support for the importance of tak- ing a more nuanced approach to studying the relationship of Internet use to social inequality. Far from being simply dependent on mere access, systematic differences are present in how people incorporate digital media into their lives even when we control for basic connectivity. Moreover, these differences hold even among a group of college students, precisely the type of population that popular rhetoric assumes to be universally wired and digitally savvy. These assumptions are not supported by the evidence, however. The particular socie- tal positions that people inhabit are reflected in their Internet uses. Those who are already more privileged tend to have more Internet use autonomy and resources, more online experiences, higher levels of know-how and report engaging in more diverse types of uses than the less privileged, precisely the group that would stand a better chance of benefitting from these activities if they were more engaged with them.