Prensky’s (2001) dichotomy of digital ‘natives’ and ‘immigrants’ is very much based on the idea that age shapes one’s computing competence. He compares entering the digital world to learning a new language in the sense that ‘natives’ (those who are born into the internet generation) have digital competence as a mother-tongue, while immigrants (those who have arrived later in the digital world) are suppressed by their “accent” and therefore will never achieve equivalent competence.
As a second-language learner, I find Prensky’s language-based analogy a demoralising one as I hope that complete competence is, although challenging, achievable despite my “accent”. I believe that if you immerse yourself within a foreign language environment over a long period of time, to such an extent that your only distinguishing foreign factor is your “accent”, you should not be forever confined to being labelled as less competent than a native.
White and Cornu (2011) introduce a more flexible concept which moves away from Prensky’s focus that age moulds digital competence: that of the digital ‘visitor’ and ‘resident’. White (2008) describes a ‘visitor’ as someone who uses the internet as a tool, for small or infrequent tasks such as checking emails and booking holidays, without occupying an online identity. To a ‘resident’, according to White (2011), the internet is a place where they maintain an online persona which remains online even when they log off.
The reason I think this dichotomy is more appropriate than Prensky’s distinction is because it is an open spectrum and is not based on set categories. An internet user can be a ‘visitor’ and a ‘resident’ simultaneously. I would definitely consider myself as both as while I enjoy updating my Instagram and keeping in touch with friends on Facebook, I still use the internet as a tool for checking emails and completing work.
I find the internet as a place a fascinating metaphor. A digital ‘resident’ hopes to build a positive world within the online space which can be shared with others, and this freedom must be used to an advantage. However, we must consider the consequences of the internet as a real place, which a ‘visitor’ is not exposed to. A future employer may well look at your online profile before giving you a job and we don’t want that to be jeopardised by a silly tweet or an embarrassing photo you were recently tagged in on Facebook.
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Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1, On the Horizon, 9 (5), pp. 1-6
White, D. (2008) TALL blog. Accessed 07/10/15 from http://tallblog.conted.ox.ac.uk/index.php/2008/07/23/not-natives-immigrants-but-visitors-residents/
White, D.S., Cornu, A.L. (2011) Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement, First Monday, 16 (9)