How do you answer the question, “What do you think of if you were asked to find something in an encyclopedia?” (If you thought of a set of big, hardback books labeled by the alphabet, you’re not a Digital Native.)

What question would you consider if you saw a big, often yellow, fat, paperback book labeled by year and produced by a phone company that was delivered to your door?

a)    Where should I keep this because I may need it?

b)   What is this and why would I want it in my house?

(If you answered A, you’re definitely not a Digital Native.)

Do you remember life when your parents did not have cell phones? (If you answered No, you probably ARE a Digital Native.)

And your answer to this next question is one that reveals where you sit on the imaginary boundary of those called Digital Natives or Digital Immigrants: When told to search for or find some information, if one of your first thoughts is to “Google” it, you are at least a Digital Immigrant.

My Digital Native, high-school son had no idea why anyone would want a phone book!

So what’s the difference between Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, or Digital Hermits?

  • Digital Natives know life globally and relationally at a 24X7, continually connected way of being with people and information on our planet.
  • Digital Immigrants expand their awareness of technology integrated into all aspects of life (whether they use it or not); they willingly put their toes in the virtual world to explore what tech can do for them – often embracing new processes and ways of thinking and living that leverage technology.
  • Digital Monks possess an awareness that our culture is shifting to technology as an integrated way of life, for both young and old. However, be it resistance to change, fear of technology, lack of knowledge or skill, or a belief that “doing life and business” without technology worked fine – a conscious decision has been made to stay removed from technological advances in their personal world.

From The Outside Looking In On The Digital Natives

I am not a Digital Native. In spending a little time wit our friend’s two-year old, it was evident she knew how to use an iPhone independently. She could unlock the screen, open the apps, scroll to her Smurfs game, play all on her own, and she knew when to ask her parents for the power cord when it needed “juicy” to keep it working. No, at two, if I were given an iPhone back in the late ‘60’s, I would have traded that thin, plastic block for a pile of Play-Doh or Legos in a second. I’d have had no idea that I held the virtual world in my little hands!

But as our world progresses with technology at the center of business development, communication, and human connectivity at a global level, I remain curious about what exists in technology and how I could use it in my life and work in ways that help me live the life I desire. This definitely qualifies me as a Digital Immigrant. I ask and learn about integrating ever-changing technology into my life from those Digital Natives in my life. I remain amazed at the Digital Immigrants I know (like current college seniors) who hover much closer to the unseen bubble boundary of Digital Natives; they teach me so much.

While it is fascinating to observe a Digital Native child in action with technology, it is also fascinating to visit with a Digital Monk. These are people of all ages who are plenty aware that life is moving at warp speed with “always on” technology connecting us across our earth. Yet for numerous reasons, they opt to “step away,” and not immigrate into life as a Digital Immigrant. Perhaps they like the space and time that “quiet-without-technology” brings, or the creativity that spills forth when they pick up a pen and paper, or the joy in maintaining a handful of deep, “real” relationships where the primary form of communication is face-to-face.  Digital Monks choose not to infuse their lives with technology.

Digital Immigrants and Digital Monks are simply two different perspectives and approaches to dealing with technology in our culture today. And both espouse pieces of wisdom.

Our Digital Natives, however, may find it challenging or perhaps unnecessary to live life any other way than fully connected to life with tech. They will grow up with their heads in “the cloud.”

As adults today who are not Digital Natives, what a cultural phenomenon is developing before us as new communication norms become commonplace. (But since the topic of socially acceptable communication behavior in the population group of Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives is ripe with opinion – like, is it polite or okay to text when you are having a face-to-face small group conversation? – I’ll hold off on going there in this blog post!

Does it matter if you know if you are a Digital Natives, Immigrant, or Monk? No, wherever you fall on the spectrum is fine, but awareness of these differences can be fun to observe and discuss because it impacts our lives everyday. And the more aware of the differences in how folks view the world and technology allows us great opportunities to respect various perspectives.

By Dr. Heidi Scott, Communication and Leadership Specialist and Digital Immigrant

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