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Digital Media

Transformations in Human Communication

Edited By Paul Messaris and Lee Humphreys

The age of digital media has given rise to a new social world. It is a world in which the transmission of information from the few to the many is steadily being supplanted by the multi-directional flow of facts, lies, and ideas. It is a world in which hundreds of millions of people are voluntarily depositing large amounts of personal details in publicly accessible databases. It is a world in which interpersonal relationships are increasingly being conducted in the virtual sphere. Above all, this is a world that seems to be veering off in unpredictable ways from the trends of the immediate past. This book is a probing examination of that world, and of the changes that it has ushered into our lives.

In more than thirty essays by a wide range of scholars, this must-have second edition examines the impact of digital media in six areas – information, persuasion, community, gender and sexuality, surveillance and privacy, and cross-cultural communication – and offers an invaluable guide for students and scholars alike. With one exception, all essays are completely new or revised for this volume.

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Chapter 4: The Myth of Visual Literacy and Digital Natives (Eva Brumberger)


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The Myth of Visual Literacy and Digital Natives

Eva Brumberger

Fifteen years have passed since Marc Prensky (2001) coined the term “digital natives” to describe a generation that has grown up connected to, and through, a variety of technologies, from video games to social media, smart phones to wearable tech. Virtually (pun intended) every aspect of the digital native’s life is mediated by some form of digital technology. Many of them cannot imagine life without ready access to the Internet, let alone life without a cell phone. Few people would dispute that these descriptions accurately depict the “net gen”—or, at least, the upper middle class net gen in a first world country.

However, tied to the term “digital natives” is the claim that their prolonged exposure to technology has provided them with a degree of technological literacy which surpasses that of previous generations (Prensky, 2001). And, because so many of the technologies on which digital natives rely are visually oriented, the argument has also been made that the net gen is more visually literate than previous generations. Digital natives are described as “the most visual of all learning cohorts” (Coates, 2006, p. 126); “intuitive visual communicators” who can “weave together images, text, and sound in a natural way” (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005, p. 2.5); and even “visual experts” (Tapscott, 2009, p. 106). Through continued propagation of these claims, the concept of the digital native has achieved...

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