The idea of a distinction between digital ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’ is a strange one. The suggestion that there is a difference between those who merely adopted the digital age and those who were born in it, even moulded by it, seems fair. But what many attempted explanations and justifications of this rather blasé categorisation fail to appreciate is that the ‘digital’ is not a single culture, originating with the few and appropriated by the many. Rather, it is the ‘digital world‘, which by definition is all-encompassing.
This notion appears to have been conceived by Prensky in 2001, and gradually adapted from digital ‘natives and immigrants’ to ‘residents and visitors’. Prensky boldly claimed that no matter how digitally accomplished those born before the digital age may be, they will never adapt enough to become a ‘native’. Having just been taught how to write the HTML of this very blog by my father, I can but cite White and Cornu (2011) in their observation that digital learning is no different to all forms of education, in that age plays no part. The real divide arises between those who employ the digital and those who play with the digital – and this divide is certainly not synonymous with ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’, regardless of the extent to which Prensky’s ‘old vs. young’ theory increasingly been rubbished.
However, where the ongoing discussion over the manifestation of whatever this division may be appears content to accept that there is indeed a distinct, two-sided rift in the digital world. I would propose that there is at least one more team to consider – the creators. It appears that many, if not all, who repeatedly redefine the terms ‘native’ and ‘immigrant’ or ‘resident’ and ‘visitor’ overlook the obvious, which is that their ‘natives’, millennials born into a world of tech and connectivity, did not create their own habitat.
Those who pioneer are those who are in fact most at home in the digital world. These coders and innovators kindly allow us to inhabit their world by making their creations friendly to those of us who are completely content to be entirely illiterate in the language of that which underpins our digital existence. To suggest that young people – conveniently born in an age championed by technology creators – are ‘native’ purely because of their youth is a misrepresentation and truly a disservice to those who created the digital world. The continuum of ‘nativeness’ as a concept is intrinsically flawed.
Kuehn, L. (2012) ‘No more “digital natives” and “digital immigrants”’, Our Schools Our Selves, 21, pp.129-132.
Prensky, M. (2001) ‘Digital natives, digital immigrants’, From On the Horizon, 9(5).
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