As technology advances, so does our knowledge and understanding of the way it works. For example, Mark Prensky, a writer and speaker on learning and education, once acknowledged the existence of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants (2001), referencing the distinction between those who are entirely at ease within the digital environment and those who manage to learn to exist within it but will never be fully competent. He went on to suggest that whilst the older population, those not born into the digital world, would adopt aspects of new technology, they would always retain a “foot in the past”. However, as our use of the internet has changed, with the influx of social networks towards the mid-2000s and research showing that the highest demographic for sites such as Facebook is that of 35-44 year olds (Hockly, 2011), it seems that Prensky’s definition is no longer suitable.
Seven years after Prensky’s publication, Bennett et al challenged his definitions, arguing that whilst a high proportion of young people are highly adept with technology, there are still a number of young people who do not have the levels of access or technology skills “predicted by proponents of the digital native idea” (2008), adding that there is much variation within the digital native generation. It would seem that Prensky’s observations of internet users was critiqued mainly for its generalisation of both digital natives as younger learners who would always be privileged and digital immigrants as “handicapped” older users (White & Le Cornu, 2011).
With all these challenges of Prensky’s definitions and with our changing relationship with the web, White and Le Cornu have suggested a different approach, with the idea of Digital Visitors and Digital Residents. They describe Digital Visitors as the kind of people who would treat the internet as an “untidy garden tool shed”: they will go and get what they need, it might not be the perfect tool for the job but it gets the job done. In other words, they treat the web as just another tool to achieve a certain goal, just like a telephone or a pen. In my personal experiences, this describes my grandparents perfectly; they are happy enough to use the internet to maintain relationships; using Skype or sending an email to their family in Canada, but are unwilling to shop online or join virtual communities. On the other hand, I would consider myself to fit into their definition of a Digital Resident, I will often use online banking and shop online and once I log off my computer an aspect of my digital persona remains; I have a travel blog, a Twitter and a Facebook account to name just a few.
Bennett, S., Maton, K., and Kervin, L. 2008. “The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence,” British Journal of Educational Technology, volume 39, number 5, pp. 775–786. Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00793.x [Accessed: 6th October 2014]
Hockly, N. 2011. “The Digital Generation”, Oxford Journals, Arts & Humanities, ELT Journal Volume 65, Issue 3 Pp. 322-325.
Prensky, M. 2001. “Digital natives, digital immigrants”, On the Horizon, Volume 9, Issue 5. Available at http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf, [Accessed: 6th October 2014]
White, D. S., and Le Cornu, A. 2011. “Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement” Available at http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3171/3049. [Accessed: 6th October 2014]