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What Do Digital Natives Do Online?

In a previous article called Are You a Digital Native or Digital Immigrant?, we explored some of the general categories that define a digital native or a digital immigrant. Digital natives grew up with digital technology, while digital immigrants saw these technologies introduced during their life. In this article, let’s see how digital natives are using technology and the internet.

Internet Usage & Email

The Pew Research Center’s Generations Online Study provides some interesting information about how digital natives use the Internet and email. Contrary to the popular image of Generation Y and teens only using instant messaging, status updates on social networks, and text messaging on phones, the study reveals that 73% of teens currently use email. Now, email usage is down from its 2004 level of 89%. The growth of social networks and rapid adoption of smart phones for text messaging may be the reasons for this decline.

What Activities Do Digital Natives Do Online?

Digital natives spend their time online doing many different activities, such as:

  • 97% play video games
  • Typical teen sends 50 texts per day
  • 75% use social networks (source)
  • 73% send emails (source)

For teens, the amount gaming being played is staggering. According to some of the latest research, gaming among teens is by far the most popular online activity:

  • 31% of teens play daily
  • 50% of teens played a game yesterday
  • 86% play on a game console
  • 73% play on a computer
  • 60% play on a portable device
  • 48% play on a phone

Online games are being played in high numbers boys (99%) and girls (94%) on a daily basis. Playing different game genres (puzzles, sports, action, music) is virtually the same among boys and girls, too. Boys play 8 different gaming genres, while girls play 6 different gaming genres.

78% of games are played with another person, so online gaming is a social activity for digital natives.


Sherry Terkle wrote about people having a “second self” many years ago. In her book, she talked about how digital technology would lead people to merge their online life with their real-world life. Digital natives use the technology readily before them primarily for social purposes. They want to connect, share, socialize, communicate, and play with their friends. They download music, watch movies, and read blogs. Their consumption and usage of technology will lead us into the future. Our next innovations will come from the gaps these digital natives see in the lives of their “second self” (as Sherry describes it). For me, I can;t wait to see what happens next.

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