Digital “visitors” and “residents”: How can you be a visitor whilst in your own home?

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.


Word count: 413


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

White, D.S., Cornu, A.L. (2011) Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement, First Monday, 16 (9)


6 thoughts on “Digital “visitors” and “residents”: How can you be a visitor whilst in your own home?

  1. Hi Lucy, an interesting blog and I certainly had not considered the implications of the metaphors used by Prensky to those aiming to remove barriers between “natives” and “residents” in the physical world! The black and white picture painted by Prensky and also by your examples of use of email and work online suggest a much narrower set of options than the web makes available to us. Your examples of being a visitor to various sites does not consider those work tools that encourage collaboration, contribution and community such as Google Drive, Padlet and Prezi. Although the residency here is not as clear as that of Instagram and Facebook there is still an element of it in these tools. Overall though I agree with your sentiment that there are sites we use fully as residents, and as visitors, but a large number of sites fall somewhere in between.


  2. Hi Lucy, as a fellow second-language learner, I really like how you’ve discussed Prensky’s ideas about competence and accent in relation to a second language. I agree that with you that it’s very demoralising- just because we might never lose our English accents when speaking a foreign language doesn’t mean that we can’t be as much a member of a foreign society as a native can. It’s a good analogy and provides a different and personally a more relatable angle on understanding Prensky’s unfair ideas about digital natives and immigrants. At the end of your blog you discuss the consequences of seeing the internet as a place, and I think this is very interesting. Our generation has a habit of posting anything and everything online, and speaking to some friends who have recently graduated university and have been job hunting, I really realise the importance of treating the Internet space with care. For example, one of my friends spent hours going through her Facebook, ensuring every single photo was private, to be told in a job interview that the company had special programmes that could see the whole contents of her Facebook; even if everything was set to a ‘friends only’ setting! It really makes you think about to what extent you should share your personal life online; to what extent you should put yourself out there as a ‘resident’.


  3. Hello Lucy, great blog post. I like the way you compared Prensky’s theory to you learning a second language. I also think the theory is based on two extremes. In this day and age I completely agree with you that you can learn anything as long as you immerse yourself into the topic.

    You also mention that the digital resident hopes to build up a positive world. We all know that employers do look now at online profiles. Do you think this should be the case? Recently my friend was asked to untag pictures of herself with alcohol in her hands as she was due to work at a kids camp and the staff were worried the children would look at her profile. Is this a gross violation of privacy? I thought so, surely just changing her profile setting to private would be good enough? It wasn’t apparently. Everyone has tweeted a silly tweet or been tagged in a questionable picture at some point, should this stand in the way of your dream job?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s