Prensky’s (2001) work on digital natives and digital immigrants was very influential at the time but over a decade later it has been heavily critiqued due to its simplistic nature; ill-fitting metaphors and its tendency to rely heavily on age to determine ability. Even Prensky himself has critiqued the validity of the debate in today’s online world. As a result the digital resident and visitor concept was introduced to understand the complex nature of how we use with the web.
The idea of digital visitors and residents is based on our levels of engagement with the web. We are either a resident of the web and join in the community by structuring an online identity that remains even when we are offline. Alternatively we are just visitors using the web to achieve a goal leaving no social trace (White and Le Cornu, 2011). White summarises these ideas in a video where he further explains that the residents and visitors idea sits on a continuous axis where we are able to be in different modes, we are not solely only a visitor or a resident. The animation video highlights the basics of White and Le Cornu (2011) debate.
The emergence of large social media sites began when I was well into my teens. The digital age was advancing rapidly and I had gone from using the internet solely to google pictures for my dorm room to connecting with friends on Facebook. I have endeavoured to keep up with the changes on the web but often find myself falling behind and concerned about my privacy. This concern for my privacy has often meant that ‘visitor mode’ tends to be my default mode. I use the web daily and with efficiency but only in terms of achieving my goals. I don’t contribute to the web but find others contributions essential. I read hundreds of blogs when deciding on a new purchase and I can spend weeks sifting through customer reviews.
The idea of residents and visitors is evolving as fast as the web. Just like Prensky’s ideas lost favour over time, it is possible that the resident and visitor idea may no longer be valid in a decade.
If you are interested the University of Oxford is currently involved in a study to investigate the theory of digital residents and visitors with learners in different educational stages to understand how learners engage with the Web.
Prensky, M. (2001) ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants’, On the Horizon, Vol. 9, No. 5.
White, D. and Le Cornu, A. (2011) ‘Visitors and Residents: A New Typology for Online Engagement’, First Monday, Vol. 16, No. 9.
White, D. (2014) ‘Visitors and Residents Video’, Jiscnetskills, Accessed: February 2015.