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Published on 13 September 2019, updated on 02 November 2023

Digital natives: a contrasting picture

Digital natives are people born after 1984. Their rallying call? They were born into the digital world: from the internet to the mobile, PC and tablet. However, are they all the same, and are they all innately tech savvy? We’re not so sure.

Digital natives should take to technology like fish to water. There are some common traits among them all over the world:

They multi-task: they listen to music while on their phones messaging their friends…

They live and act with immediacy: everything goes so fast in the world of new technology!

They’re used to reading from a screen and are able to scan and browse quickly but without going deeper.



Immobile on their mobiles…

As soon as young people become the happy owners of their first mobile (more than 90% of 12-year-olds already have one in France and more than 81% of teens between 12 and 17 in the USA), they become addicted. Their smartphone is an essential part of their lives. In France it is the first personal device for 84% of 13-19-year-olds.

What do young people do on their mobiles? Most 7-12-year-olds start with gaming apps, while 13-19-year-olds favour social media and messaging, music and streaming videos…
A common trait: nearly 40% screen their parents’ calls and don’t automatically reply to their messages… 

For digital natives, the smartphone has become an extension of themselves, and “not having it on them makes them feel anxious”, according to the 2019 Observatory of Digital Uses.
It’s known as nomophobia. But for young users, it can also open the doors to a positive universe: for 42% of 15-24-year-olds, digital technology can strengthen social bonds.
This is one of their distinctive features, as adults express a more mixed view on the subject.




Definition: what is nomophobia?

“Nomophobia” was first recorded in 2013 (in France) in the Petit Larousse Illustré dictionary as: “someone who cannot live without their mobile phone and who feels an excessive fear of being unable to use it”




Are all digital natives the same? The reality is nuanced.

Beyond these broad observations, there are also strong nuances. The overall picture varies, depending on regional, socio-economic, cultural and gender contexts, with girls using technology differently to boys.

The idea that they’re born innately tech savvy is also not the reality. 21% of users who abandon doing something because it requires them to use the internet are actually digital natives. Like their elders, younger generations, even those born with a smartphone in their hands, need training to learn how to use these tools!

Scientific research in the educational sector confirms it: digital natives’ computing knowledge is often fairly superficial. It is limited to recreational uses: video games, posting a story on Snapchat or Instagram, browsing clips on YouTube etc. Performing a more targeted search using web tools, for example, or an in-depth analysis of data, would pose more of a problem.


Training, a major benefit for digital natives

Aware of the need to contribute to high-quality training, the Orange Foundation supports digital education, especially among young audiences. The #SuperCoders programme has already enabled more than 30,000 children (aged between 9 and 14) to learn the basics of coding across some 20 countries. What’s more, we have opened 820 Digital Schools in 16 African countries.

We also work with start-ups: Caysti is one such pioneer in French-speaking Africa, designing fun learning platforms for children to broaden their skills in coding and robotics.

Beyond technical or technology training, access to broader culture is also essential to sharpen critical thinking and open up horizons. The Orange Foundation, along with renowned cultural partners, offers a catalogue of cultural MOOCs, which are free online courses open to all.


Digital or… Sustainable natives?

It’s obvious that digital natives are therefore a more diverse group than they seem and, above all, less “native” than first imagined.

Today, there’s a very active new fringe emerging, that of sustainable natives (20% among them, according to the 8th Millennial Survey conducted by Deloitte). This group is highly engaged in finding solutions to the most urgent global challenges, including climate change, wealth distribution and data protection. They are at the frontier when it comes to challenging our perspectives on everything.