The "digital divide". What exactly is it? The answer, it seems, is not the gap between rich and poor, but the difference in the way young people and adults view the internet.At last month's UK Kids Online seminar, the grown-ups were wheeled out. Beverley Hughes, the minister for children, young people and families, talked about how kids use computers to "engage in social networking and to create unbelievably comprehensive personal music collections, [they are] also a valuable tool for their studies". She also, like most adults, fretted more about the risks than the opportunities. Far more enlightening, though, was a young speaker, the impressive James Downey, aged 12. James epitomises how kids use computers. A year ago, he mostly used his for homework. This year, though, he is heavily into iTunes, Bebo and YouTube. And he used the web to research getting a dog. "Fed up that my parents wouldn't get their act together, I searched the internet for the right breed at the right price." For him, "the computer has become the best place to find information of any sort". Social networking Is James typical? I asked Josh, aged 13, whether he used Bebo or MySpace. "Oh, you mean social networking," he said. How about YouTube, I asked? "That's not social networking, that's user-generated content," he snapped back. Clearly he had no trouble understanding the phenomenon that has swept the world in the past two years. He could also explain why his generation's use of technology such as iPods, games players and mobile phones with built-in cameras and video - is fundamentally different from those over 30 or 40. Josh is no metropolitan smart alec, but lives in deepest Devon and attends a 2,000-pupil rural comprehensive on the edge of Dartmoor. To get a girl's view, I also talked to Anna, who has just turned 16 and goes to an all-girls school in Aberdeen. Both seemed to mirror James's attitude to technology: it's a tool to help them do what they want to do. And sometimes that goes into places where adults would struggle at the first step. A friend has two children aged 11 and 16. He explains: "The latest thing in Surrey right now is downloading high-pitched tones that only children can hear [the 17kHz "Mosquito"] on to their mobiles, Bluetoothing them around, and then starting up a cacophony in lessons - they can hear it and double up in agony, but their teacher can't." It's a metaphor for the adult/child gap: the children can recognise what the grownups can't. The teenagers reject adult complaints that they spend hours a day staring at screens or plugged into their iPods. Josh says he only listens to music for three-quarters of an hour on the school bus, and takes in a podcast in bed. Games are, admittedly, a problem. Josh's parents have had to ban the PlayStation in the evenings in favour of homework, but have accepted that he runs computer games around the edge of their 24in screen while he does his homework in the middle. This multitasking has not harmed his results so far. He also admits that he and his mates play multi-user online games in class during boring lessons when the teacher isn't looking. Broadly, Josh, Anna and James all use similar sites and programs in similar ways: their favourite sites are MySpace, Bebo, MSN, YouTube, the iTunes Store and they play World of Warcraft. Why one rather than another? Because "their friends are on there already"; loyalty can shift en masse. They do like sites to be easy to use. Josh prefers Bebo because he finds MySpace "fiddly". Josh has about 30 "friends" on Bebo, 25 of whom are active. Just under half are girls, who he reckons use the site more than the boys. Anna and her friends use MySpace as enthusiastically. Social sites such as this might even be the beginning of the end of the boy/girl divide in computer use. For homework, Josh finds the web more useful and stimulating than textbooks. He uses the BBC's bitesize revision program and regular BBC news downloads, but not the rest of the BBC's educational stuff. For James, books and newspapers are still important, but more as a trigger for real research on the web. He "would like to see all magazine articles finish with web links"; teenagers have already worked out the proper balance between paper and screen that the grown-up media are only now stumbling hesitantly towards. The young all use Wikipedia as their prime information source, whereas many adults are aghast at its unmoderated rawness and unreliability. Josh reckons he can suss out the dodgy bits and uses Google a second opinion. The teenagers also tend to dismiss the adult paranoia about the dangers of the net. Adults ask: "How do you know you are talking to another child?" Anna replies: "Because I know my friends." Josh is offended that anybody might think he would be stupid enough to "trawl networking sites looking for 'interesting people'". He claims that "an adult would be pretty easy to spot because of his use of language". He is aware, though, that there is a dark side of the internet: both he and James have had porn pop up at them and Josh has seen quite a lot of racial abuse. Anna's headmistress does worry. Last week, she sent a circular to all parents asking them to encourage their daughters not to write "anything unpleasant" about other pupils on their Bebo sites. She also warned about internet grooming. Adult worries Josh is perplexed at the adult worry about the rich/poor digital divide. All his friends have one or two computers at home and most have their own laptops. He doesn't "know anyone at school who is so poor they can't afford a computer". However, national statistics persistently show the number of home computers is stuck at around 50%. Perhaps it shows that even in a comprehensive, a high-stream kid can lose touch with how the other, poorer, half lives. Josh, Anna and James insist that their incessant use of technology does not make them geeks. Josh explains that "to most grownups, a geek is someone who can use a computer. To us, a geek is someone who can build a computer and its applications himself." Neither Josh nor Anna know any real geeks, whom they consider to be rather sad. To them, computers and the internet are just tools to help them communicate with their mates. They are also helping them to solve problems, collaborate with each other and create their own knowledge. Did old-time education do all of this? Adults should stop worrying and join in. That could plug the child/adult divide - at least until the next generation.