The Web is 28 years old this year and it is fair to say many of us can not live with out it. Throughout these years distinctions have been made about different users. Similar to the way we describe people learning a new language, web users have been described as ‘Digital residents’ and ‘Digital visitors’.
In Prensky’s book ‘On the horizon’ he created an analogy of users being either ‘Digital natives’ or ‘Digital immigrants’. He described ‘Digital natives’ as those who have grown with technology as part of their culture; they are used to receiving information really fast and prefer graphics before text. In contrast a ‘Digital immigrant’ is described as someone who speaks an outdated language, pre-digital age, and finds it harder to adapt to this new era where people live and work on the web.
The new typology
After much criticism about Prensky’s typology, writers have distinguished web users today as ‘Digital residents’ and ‘Digital visitors’. This new typology has come from the findings that users may use the web as a ‘tool’ or as a ‘space’ (White, 2008).
‘Digital visitors’ see the web as a tool, something they can utilise with a specific purpose in the aims of achieving a desired goal. They must see a concrete benefit of the web in order to feel it is useful. They fear issues of privacy with online profiles and place little value in belonging online (White et al, 2001). In contrast, ‘Digital residents’ see the web as a space where they can interact with others by sharing information about their life. They place value not only on knowledge they gain online but also how much they can interact. They also use tools (e.g. online banking) however they remain connected post use by spending a good portion of their lives updating and improving their online identity (e.g. twitter update).
Being a social media enthusiast I would consider myself a ‘Digital resident’. I believe that residents like myself have become teachers to the visitors. For instance, how many times have you had to teach an older family member how to share a post or make a payment online? Much of the web tools my parents use today, have been shown to them by me. It is fair to say the ability of using the web has become an important transferable skill which as a ‘Digital resident’ I am proud to have acquired.
Prensky, M. (2001) ‘Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1’, On the Horizon, 9(5), pp. 1–6. doi: 10.1108/10748120110424816.
White, D (2008) ‘Not “natives” & “immigrants” but “visitors” & “residents”’, Available at: http://tallblog.conted.ox.ac.uk/index.php/2008/07/23/not-natives-immigrants-but-visitors-residents/ (Accessed: 10 February 2017).
White, D. S., & Cornu, A. L. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).