The idea of digital residents and visitors was first proposed by Prensky (2001) in an attempt to understand the distinction arising with the lifestyles of new generations, ones growing up with no prior recollection of life before digital technologies, compared with that of older generations who learnt these skills already a fully developed adult.
The two sides were seen as clear cut: those who were naturally at ease within the digital sphere, and those who learnt to exist within one (White & Le Cornu, 2011). As shown in fig.1 individuals fit into one category or the other.
Credit where credit is due, 16 years ago when Prensky first devised this theory there was great merit and applicability to his thoughts – computers were new and people didn’t always understand how they could be integrated into everyday life. However nowadays most “millennials” (Howe & Strauss, 2000) experience their digital lives through social media, i.e. Facebook and Twitter, which have risen in popularity since the development of Prensky’s immigrants vs. natives theory. As well as this, the theory is grounded in the existence of a clear generational divide (Kervin & Maton, 2008), fundamentally one generation is at a disadvantage.
Therefore White & Le Cornu move to suggest that Prensky’s original notion has become “redundant” (2011) in the modern technical world, and further propose that a continuum now exists of Visitors and Residents. Thus inferring that there is no longer a clear cut distinction along a generation divide, and that individuals technical competency is recorded along a scale; with immigrants and natives being the two polar extremes.
Here is a handy guide I’ve made to help explain the two ends of the scale based on White & Le Cornu’s key principles (2011):
- Utilise the web like a tool box, i.e. using Skype to talk to long distance friends or relatives.
- Users not members, i.e. aren’t fussed about participating on social media like Facebook.
- Digital identity key, translate persona both on- and offline, i.e. have an Instagram profile that reflects what they do offline, there’s no distinction between the two.
- Utilise the Web as a network, to express identities and build relationships, i.e. Posting statuses on Facebook and attracting new connections through comments, likes and shares.
This continuum brings in lots of new interesting ideas, and allows those of all genders, born into a technology filled world or not, the same opportunities to place themselves within it. A theory that is as fluid as the web is, as opposed to the rigid boundaries of Digital Natives vs. Immigrants.
So have a look at the scale below (fig. 2) and think, where would you place yourself?
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Harris, L., Warren, L., Leah, J. and Ashleigh, M. (2010) Small steps across the chasm: ideas for embedding a culture of open education in the university sector. In Education, Technology & Social Media (Special Issue, Part 2), 16(1).
Howe, N. & Strauss, W. (2000). Millennials rising: the next great generation. New York: Vintage.
Kervin, L. & Maton, K. (2008). The Digital Natives Debate: A Critical Review of the Evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5). 775-786.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon (NCB University Press).
White, D. S., & Cornu, A. L. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).