The concept of ‘Digital Visitors’ and ‘Digital Residents’

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’.

Prensky’s Typology

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 In contrast a ‘Digital immigrant’ is described as someone who speaks an outdated language, pre-digital age,  and finds it harder to adapt to this new era where people live and work on the web.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).

My Experience

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: (Accessed: 10 February 2017).

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


10 thoughts on “The concept of ‘Digital Visitors’ and ‘Digital Residents’

  1. Hey, thanks for the post. It’s a great read! I like your description of “visitors” and “residents” – it clearly highlights the difference in the terms. I really like your original insight listed under “My Experience”. I too can relate to your examples and tend to operate primarily in “resident” mode as so many young people do today.

    You mention that there is ‘much criticism’ of Prensky’s work but don’t elaborate. What issues do you feel notions of “residents” and “visitors” look to resolve? Are you referring to criticisms of Presnky’s focus on age as outlined in the White & Cornu paper you referenced?

    Additionally, do you think that we will eventually all operate in “resident” mode in the future? Or do you feel different people will continue to operate in different modes?

    Thanks again


    1. Hi Callum

      Thank you for the taking the time to read my post!

      My apologies for not elaborating further on the criticism i mentioned about Prensky’s work so thank you for bringing that up! This criticism i wrote about refers to the deeper understanding of the typology that Prensky’s work failed to mention in further detail such as the use of the web as a tool or space.

      I believe that in the future there will be a lot more ‘residents’ however there will always be a contrast on different users simply due to the fact that people learn differently due to various factors.

      many thanks



  2. Hi Eloane,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your exploration on this topic of digital residents vs digital visitors. I like the fact that you separated your blog post into different subheadings which I thought was very easy on the eye and engaging for me to know at what stage I was reading a different point.

    You have touched upon the fact that you consider yourself a digital resident, however do you think there are times where you fit in with the notion of being a digital visitor? For example, my tendency to use the web to check my emails would suggest that I am a digital visitor as I use it for a functional purpose. So to what extent can you relate to this?

    Furthermore, you say you are a social media enthusiast, but in what ways do you put yourself out there? For instance, are you quite open with the content that you show others or are there different sites in which you are more reserved and private?

    Thanks again for a great read!


    1. Hi Carolina!

      Thank you for reading my post!

      I 100% agree with feeling like a ‘visitor’ sometimes as even on social media it is possible to simply view content and not leave a trace that you’ve seen it such as a comment or a like. I’d like to say that I am open with the content i show others more on some sites than others. For instance, on Facebook i post more content with friends and family whereas on Instagram i post mainly pictures of myself or landscapes.

      thanks again



  3. Hey Eloane,

    This blog post has been clearly thought-out, well researched and incredibly informative, so thank you for the insight. I really like how you sectioned your post, it made it an easy and enjoyable read; I will definitely be taking this in to consideration when I make my next blog post.

    I particularly liked your ‘My Experience’ section. By providing your own experience you clearly establish and emphasise your point, it also helped me as a reader engage with your blog on a personal level. Furthermore, I thought that the addition of the questions was incredibly thought provoking and convinced me that this ‘teacher’ element is plausible.

    The only thing I would add, as Callum mentioned, is stating why Prensky’s work was under much criticism; it would help you to explain the need for Cornu and White’s theory, and why it replaces Prensky’s ‘thinly supported claims’.

    But again, a well thought-out and clearly structured post, well done!


    Liked by 1 person

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