Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses among Members of the “Net Generation”

Authors: Eszter Hargittai

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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.


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.


  • Introduction
  • Internet Use and Social Inequality
  • Hypotheses
  • Data and Methods
    • Measures: Independent Variables
    • Measures: Dependent Variables
    • Methods of Analysis
    • The Sample
  • The Relationship of User Background, Technological Context of Use, and Experiences
  • Explaining Differences in Skill
  • Explaining Diversity in Internet Uses
  • Conclusion


The author thanks Mike Stern and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. She appreciates the support of faculty and staff at the University of Illinois-Chicago for making this study possible, namely, Mary Case, Ann Feldman, Tom Moss, and Karen Mossberger. Additionally, she thanks the following people for their assistance with data collection and entry: Waleeta Canon, Gina Walejko, Soo An, Dan Li, and the group of undergraduate research assistants in the Web Use Project group during the 2006–2007 academic year. She is very grateful for the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation through its Digital Media and Learning initiative. She is also indebted to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, and The Lenore Annenberg and Wallis Annenberg Fellowship in Communication. She thanks the support offered by Northwestern University’s Research Grants Committee, the School of Communication Innovation Fund, and the Department of Communication Studies Research Fund.

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