One of the comments that I hear tossed around these days is how those entering the workforce now (AKA “new associates”, “new paralegals”, “new project assistants”) will be “computer savvy” or “better equipped” for things like online research, Web 2.0, or the virtual workplace. I try to chime in with my opinion that those that believe this are mistaking “comfort and familiarity” with “skill”. For example, a new associate may have great skills when it comes to driving a six-speed Ferrari on the mean streets of “Need for Speed”, but can he or she transfer those skills to an actual Ferrari on the mean streets of Los Angeles? The skills are not automatically transferable, and you’d probably end up with either a few scratches and dents or a blown transmission than someone that can parallel park the car by sliding it in with a 180 degree slide.

Andrea DiMaio over at the Gartner Blog Network penned a great post on “Why Digital Immigrants May Be Better Off Than Digital Natives” where she eloquently states:

The common wisdom says that they [Digital Natives] are better at socializing and crowdsourcing, but are they? Do they gather their collective intelligence when they realize that they cannot solve problems alone, or do they just do so, outsourcing their individual efforts to the power of the collective, living the dream of a world where nobody is really accountable because everybody else is?
I think that we [Digital Immigrants] have been celebrating and cocooning digital natives for too long. What lies ahead of us are very uncertain times, where the ability, willingness and courage to tackle problems individually is as important as the ability to engage others (the “collective”).

Well said! DiMaio goes on to point out one of the biggest differences between Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives is the fact that we grew up with the understanding that even in the computer and online worlds, there was a scarcity of resources and we had to adapt and deal with the limited resources we had at our disposal. Digital Natives on the other hand do not have the same insights into the scarcity of resources. Digital Natives do not seem to see the shadow of the future where success is determined by what they know and how well they socialize and crowdsource their way to a solution, rather than by the coolness of “how many Facebook friends or Twitter followers they have.”

President Obama deflated the egos of the tech savvy graduates at the University of Virginia when he pointed out skills learned through entertainment do not always transfer to skills needed in the workforce today:

‘With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations – none of which I know how to work – information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.’

 I should point out that Digital Immigrants were told by President Reagan that their PacMan skills could transfer into usable work skills:

‘I recently learned something quite interesting about video games. Many young people have developed incredible hand, eye, and brain coordination in playing these games. The air force believes these kids will be our outstanding pilots should they fly our jets.’ (Aug 8, 1983)

We soon learned that just because we could storm the castle and save Princess Zelda from her dragon captor all day long, but those skills weren’t very useful when learning to fly a jet. It’s nice that the current President doesn’t seem to be confusing technology and entertainment with knowledge and work skills.