Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in internet skills and uses among members of the “net generation"

Eszter Hargittai


People who have grown up with digital media are often assumed to be universally savvy with information and communication technologies. Such assumptions are rarely grounded in empirical evidence, however. This article draws on unique data with information about a diverse group of young adults' Internet uses and skills to suggest that even when controlling for Internet access and experiences, people differ in their online abilities and activities. Additionally, findings suggest that Internet know-how is not randomly distributed among the population, rather, higher levels of parental education, being a male, and being white or Asian American are associated with higher levels of Web-use skill. These user characteristics are also related to the extent to which young adults engage in diverse types of online activities. Moreover, skill itself is positively associated with types of uses. Overall, these findings suggest that even when controlling for basic Internet access, among a group of young adults, socioeconomic status is an important predictor of how people are incorporating the Web into their everyday lives with those from more privileged backgrounds using it in more informed ways for a larger number of activities.



The author studied the difference in internet skill and type of use among first-year college students at a public research university. Contrary to popular opinion, when controlling for age and education, people report varying levels of internet use and skill. These differences are not random, and can be attributed to socioeconomic status, gender and race. Further, autonomy of use and amount of time spent online predict diversity of internet usage. Finally, internet user skill is related to diversity of internet use. This article is an important step in the study of the millennial generation’s use of digital media, because it suggests that we cannot assume that all college students have advanced internet skills.

APA Citation

Hargittai, E. (2010). Digital na(t)ives? Variation in internet skills and uses among members of the “net generation.” Sociological Inquiry, 80(1), 92-113. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-682X.2009.00317.x

About the Study

Links to Article
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication Sociological Inquiry
Type of Research Quantitative
Research Design Survey research (qualitative or quantitative)
Intervention/Areas of Study Competency-based education or mastery-based
Level of Analysis Student-level
Specific Populations Examined First-year students, Undergraduates
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest 4-year Institution, Public
Specific Course or Program Characteristics Social sciences
Outcome Variables of Interest Other
Student Sample Size 500 +
Citing Articles