Not a (digital) native

A term that comes up again and again in reference to the wider world of the web – and in particular around both mobile and social media – is ‘digital native’.

I’ve seen a little burst of it being used again recently and while this is all old news for the folks who occasionally read my babble from an education background I just wanted to address it.

The idea being that there is an entire generation of ‘young’ people for who the digital world is second nature. This has always annoyed me and struck me as being more than a little cliched. My experience has always been *much* more mixed than that – teenagers with no clue, OAPs ruling on Facebook & eBay, 30somethings who live on Twitter and professional communicators entirely dismissive of the web. It never seemed to me to be an age thing more of a state of mind.

That said I never really could express what it was the bugged me and I was as guilty as anyone of using it as shorthand when it served my purpose.

Then a couple of years ago I came across the ideas of Dave White, an academic at Oxford Uni who has been the recipient of JISC funding over the years for projects I found interesting and thus was someone on the edge of my radar. Dave put forward a new way of categorising people who use the web, splitting them between ‘residents’ and ‘visitors’ and this just clicked with me and became a key element in my thinking of how the web is used (especially since I moved from serving an audience made up of a high % of ‘residents’ at JISC to one made up of ‘visitors’ now).

Dave defined them as;

The Resident 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 Visitor 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.

On a personal level I like the idea of being an accidental ‘resident’. I came into all of this in a pretty sideways manner – I didn’t grow up loving computers or gaming. At Uni I was still hand writing my assignments in my Literature and Medieval History degree until the last couple of months and the only reason I learned HTML is that while working in a library after uni it meant time off the issue desk :). The fact I became a ‘resident’ in this world is still a shock to me – I’d still probably be happier in my bookshop! Despite my recent attempts to ease of from a life totally web dependent I probably still fall firmly in the ‘resident’ category – and that is OK. Funnily enough for me it kind of splits down my Facebook and Twitter communities – the latter represents to a great extent the ‘residents’ while the former tend to be very much ‘visitors’.

Anyway all this babble was just to say I don’t like ‘digital native’ as a term so please stop using it (and I will as well!)


  1. Like I said this wasn’t aimed at edu-types who for the most part know better now (certainly in the JISCie corner of the world) but it is a term still used regularly by both the media and *alot* of web folk – especially it seems in e-gov..and it bugs me 🙂

    Unless you can summarize your thesis in a couple of tweets I’m afraid that is going to be over my head these days!

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