Natives/immigrants vs. residents/visitors

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a decade since Marc Prensky first introduced us to the idea of digital natives and digital immigrants as a way of thinking about people’s comfort levels with digital technology. The idea boils down to this: in general, everybody over a certain age is a digital immigrant who must learn the customs and languages of the digital world because it is foreign to them, and everybody under a certain age is a native because they grew up with the technology.

But recently I learned (thanks to Twitter) about a different way of looking at how people approach the digital realm. (And to show how behind the curve I am, this idea is nearly two years old and I’m just now hearing about it.)

This different paradigm discusses digital media and technology in terms of residents and visitors, rather than natives and immigrants.

“The resident,” explains Dave White of the University of Oxford, who wrote the residents/visitors post, “is an individual who lives a percentage of their life online. The web supports the projection of their identity and facilitates relationships. These are people who have an persona online which they regularly maintain. … The web has become a crucial aspect of how they present themselves and how they remain part of networks of friends or colleagues.”

The visitor, on the other hand, “is an individual who uses the web as a tool in an organised manner whenever the need arises. They may book a holiday or research a specific subject. They may choose to use a voice chat tool if they have friends or family abroad. Often the Visitor puts aside a specific time to go online rather than sitting down at a screen to maintain their presence at any point during the day. They always have an appropriate and focused need to use the web but don’t ‘reside’ there. They are sceptical of services that offer them the ability to put their identity online as don’t feel the need to express themselves by participating in online culture in the same manner as a Resident.”

I think the visitor/resident dichotomy makes more sense than the immigrant/native one. Because, age-wise, I ought to be a digital immigrant but I am more of a digital resident than a visitor.

What do you think?


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

6 thoughts on “Natives/immigrants vs. residents/visitors”

  1. I like both concepts, but perhaps they would provide even more insights as a matrix. The immigrant/native one illustrates one’s perspective, while the resident/visitor illustrates usage pattern. Sounds like an article to me…

  2. I agree with Davina, this would work together well as a matrix. I also like the resident/visitor better than immigrant/native – for some reason the certain age doesn’t seem relevant by itself anymore. Usage and interest level patterns seem to be more relevant in social media then generational differences.

    Now there should be a separate category for those that use the iPad and those that don’t.

  3. Andrew, I like this post. I too think the matrix idea is good. But I guess I’m by myself in preferring the native/immigrant model. There are certainly exceptions, but I think natives have digital in their DNA. For me as an immigrant, I’m not a visitor any longer, but I’m different than a digital native in terms of my frame of reference which includes the pre-digital world. I think this is a strength, but the reality is that I move in an out of the digital world, whereas for natives, they just exist in it. Their perspective consequently is just different than mine. Maybe I’m just over-thinking it…

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