Saturday, August 27, 2011

Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants

Facebook, Twitter, Google, iPods, etc. have changed the world in radical ways. Cell phones have replaced landlines. Facebook has replaced email. Interactive blogs have replaced static websites. The list goes on and on. The young people who have grown up with digital technology thrive on it. They operate out of a digital perspective. They are more visual, more individualistic, and more connected. They are also less word-oriented, less patient, and less reliant on professional experts. These cultural shifts aren't good/bad or right/wrong. They are just different. And those differences continue to become more apparent - especially when compared to the good ol' days.

Marc Prensky writes about the difference between "digital natives" (i.e. youths who are growing up with new technology) and "digital immigrants" (i.e. everyone who is learning to use new technology). Here is how Prensky describes the emerging perspective of young people: "Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards."

As digital natives and digital immigrants interact, they are going to have to learn to speak one anther's language and figure out how to effectively navigate each other's cultural differences. In fact, the digital divide might prove to be a more challenging cultural journey than the traditional barriers of nationality, gender, race, etc. As Galadriel said in Lord of the Rings: "The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air." Our task for the future (and present moment) is to figure out how to effectively navigate through our changed and changing world. This is important for everyone who is interested in education, ministry, business, etc. Together we need to figure out how to be culturally savvy when the digital immigrants hang out with the digital natives.

What can we be doing?


  1. I think the risk involved in letting go of the familiar prevents many from proper integration of the newer technologies and the newer socialization. To me, the bigger question is the speed of which technology changes, is that making it more difficult for people to interact and communicate with one another..? How does the new stuff impact on the spiritual connection that once was taken for granted... are we less 'human' than previous generations? And if so, what does this mean regarding future societies..?

    Jus' some thoughts...

  2. Good thoughts and questions, Big Mark!