Digital Natives: Struggling to Search

  • Learning to use search engines
  • Learning to use search engines

Digital natives – those born into the internet era – are now adopting the world wide web from ages as low as two. I have tried many times to translate technological jargon into simple vocabulary for my eight-year-old sister, only for her to laugh at my naivety. Across the board she seems to be entirely competent: "Have you heard of Temple Run?" she sniggered, "My high score is over a million."

young search engine users

Statistics for young age groups and technology are pretty astounding. The U.S marks 96% of 18 to 29-year-olds as users, and 93% of those even younger (12-17).

Of those, 78% went as far as to say they couldn't live without the internet. No wonder such dramatic statements are made when these youngsters aren't just nipping on to their parents computers; an estimated 80% have their very own.

Despite these statistics, when it comes to search engine use, my sibling is lesser my technological rival.

Studies show that there is a struggle of young age demographics in using Google to its full potential.


Where are they going wrong?

  • Typing itself challenged some. In order to type accurately, younger users look intently at the keyboard, missing Googles drop-down auto-fill opportunity, as they only look at their entered search once completed.
  • Rarely did young users adopt the scrolling function, which meant they never looked further than the top four to five results.
  • Deciphering a good result from a poor one challenged some, often they would click on the first result regardless. Another study at the University of Illinois found this problem arising, with a bright science student claiming: "I usually click on the first thing that I see, I know the ones [here at the top] are most relevant". She was in fact looking at the shaded PPC links.
  • The abundance of choice was viewed as a hindrance by some users. Asked how Google would be improved, one child responded: "Only one result would show up."

Granted, these are young individuals. Just as we grasp handwriting, fractions and physics, now Google is on the agenda. Using the internet and understanding how best to search is something we learn over time. But as food for thought should we perhaps be doing more to guide the next generation in understanding the search engine that knows us better than our own next-door neighbours?