When I first started investigating the Internet, I spent what felt like hours every day on Lifehacker and BoingBoing. I downloaded every new program; I signed up for every new service. I didn’t always know what to do with them, but I was so eager to experience novelty. Free novelty! The programs felt like toys.

Not everyone works this way. Not most adults, and not even most Digital Natives. One of the questions we frequently field at the Digital Natives project is “How technosavvy are these kids, really?” Well: some of them are, some of them aren’t. Some teenagers run their own servers, make a sizeable income selling iPhone applications, and have laptops littered with downloaded trial programs. Most, though, just tend to their collection of mp3s and instant message with friends. The Internet affords everyone the opportunity to be geeky. Even with such low barriers to entry, though, few choose to go there.

Here’s the thing: most Digital Natives don’t treat cruising the Internet as an activity in itself. It’s a tool you use when you want to do something else. What sets Digital Natives apart is their willingness to go to the Internet first—when they have a question, when they want to do something cool, when they want to find someone to hang out with. For them, the Internet is a first resort, rather than a last resort. This skews their behavior tremendously, and also skews adoption curves.

I’m lucky enough to have a few incredibly smart, digitally reluctant friends. They sometimes marvel at my love for computers and the Internet, but they also know that I’m always happy to answer any computer question, or offer about 5 different online tools to solve any problem. A little over a year ago, I introduced one of my friends to Etsy, the “online marketplace for handmade goods.” We admired a few necklaces, did some online window shopping together, and then closed our laptops.

I didn’t think about the incident again until recently, when that same friend announced that she was opening a jewelry store on Etsy. In a matter of days, she had put together her store, filled it with photographs of her jewelry, perused the Etsy forums to get a feel for the community, and purchased a domain name to redirect to her shop. Furthermore, she quickly figured out how to use all sorts of other online tools to promote her business and build an online identity to support it. The turnaround was insanely fast. In all our years of knowing each other, I’ve always been the one obsessed with the Internet. But all of a sudden, my friend’s the expert in a domain I barely understand.

I love that this happened, but what I love even more is that it could happen to anyone. It’s true that my friend has the blessing/curse of living around quite a few digital enthusiasts. But if she’d wanted to build an online jewelry shop and hadn’t known a single Internet-lover, the solution to her query would still have been only a search engine away.

Digital Natives don’t all want to be online experts. But they’ve grown up in a world where the tools to self-publish, self-promote, and self-entertain are free and abundant. The Internet is their go-to resource. As more Digital Natives start businesses and creative careers, those businesses and portfolios will be digital first, physical second. It’s the world they’ve grown up in; a world they’ll continue to build.

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