Digital natives and digital literacy

I don't want to get into the habit of having a go at Internet megabrands on this blog, but I do have to confess to both loving and hating iTunes. Part of the problem is probably that my computer isn't the quickest and nor is it very well organised either, but sometimes iTunes just seems to take an age to crank itself into gear, especially if you open it up to see perhaps the thirteen most dreaded words in the English language... "There is an iTunes update available. Would you like to download it now?" - when you see that, you know you aren't going to be hearing any music for half an hour (all that said, I still vastly prefer iTunes to any other player that I have tried... if anyone has any other suggestions for players they love, they would be gratefully received).

This general slowness is particularly annoying when you just have a sudden urge to listen to one track - it is hardly worth booting the software up. Instead, I have found myself using YouTube when I want to hear a song, even a song I have on my computer, as it just seems much quicker.

This evening, for reasons largely unknown, I suddenly found myself with a deep hankering to listen to Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple. Whilst the track was playing, and as you do on YouTube, I started to have a look at the comments that people had left behind about the video, and one really got me thinking. It simply said: "what year was the song made in?" (sorry, there isn't a way to link to individual comments on YouTube, so you'll have to take word for it). And sure, enough a little conversation had ensued between the people trying to answer the question.

On the one hand, this is exactly the kind of conversation that YouTube seems to be suited too - short, snappy, rapid and to the point. But it also establishes a huge contradiction. The guy who posted the comment is Canadian, 22 years old and obviously, by virtue of using and commenting on YouTube, completely comfortable with producing web content, even if it is in a limited way. He sounds the definition of web 2.0 digital literate (or a digital native, to use a term that was created - and has been used by many researchers in the area) to highlight generational differences in how people behave online.

But the behavior of this individual (and he isn't alone - look at any YouTube stream to see similar examples) also raises a pretty big question in my mind: why ask the for information on YouTube when he could have found the answer he wanted nearly instantly with Google or Wikipedia? I can only think of two possible explanations.

Firstly, we might need to think about our definition of digital literacy. People may learn to use certain sites, for example YouTube, but then not have the confidence to use other sites, even if academics and commentators tend push them altogether in this thing we call "web 2.0". If this were the case, it might seriously undermine the notion of a digital native, which certainly contains an implicit assumption of comfort with technology and transferable skills. 

Secondly, it does seem possible that, on occasions, people behaving in this way only see the information they are obtaining as having secondary importance. It might be that their primary goal is to enter into a community with like minded individuals. So - like they would at any good party - they make small talk.

P.S. And of course I had to put the video up. Enjoy (and I dare you not to be humming the intro riff all day).