Digital Natives Vs Digital Immigrants

By: Dr. R. Palan, Chairman & CEO of SMR Group
Date: Friday (19th of October 2007)

I have spent the last few days in Melbourne, Australia.

The days with academics in the University and some of the world’s top  CEO’s of software companies was a refreshing experience.

Who is a digital native? Most likely your children and Gen Y’s.

Digital Immigrants – needless to say it is more about people in their 40’s and above.

It was an interesting debate.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister of Victoria made 4 important points:

  1. Solution Pull is always more effective than Technology push. It is about soultions not how great the technology is.
  2. It is always the simple things that win in the market place.
  3. All it requires is to work till we exceed the threshold to get success such as Hotmail.
  4. User interfaces and learner needs are more important than the features of your product. The business world here is buzzing with several new initiatives despite the elections here.
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One Response to Digital Natives Vs Digital Immigrants

  1. Farhana Zahani Zainal Abidin says:

    I’ve always known that some people in this world are very technology savvy while some are not. But I’ve never thought to classify these people as digital natives and digital immigrants. The debate claimed that digital natives are the new generation, the children. And the digital immigrant? It is those who are in their 40’s and above. But how do you even define native and immigrant?

    It is true that, like language, we become proficient in it as we learn in first hand as a child. An English child was taught English since he was a baby and grew up to be a native speaker of English. When he’s an adult and learn another language, he became an immigrant of that other language. But if a Malay child was taught English since he was a baby, will he be considered as a native speaker of English? If the baby was taught English and Malay, will he be considered as a native speaker of both languages?

    Simply put, you become a native of something only when you are born in that environment. If you were born in England, you are an English native and when you were born in Malaysia, you are a Malaysian native. In respect to this article, you are a digital native if you were born in a digital era. Following that, as a digital native, you should be very proficient in using technology. The same principle can be applied with digital immigrant. Immigrants usually are unable to grasp the real native language. In this case, the digital immigrants are those who have less awareness in technology.

    This article reminds me of a sitcom by Kelsey Gramer entitled The Sketch Show. In one scene, an office woman is shown to write a letter using a typewriter. Then, a colleague came and commented that she should join the 21st century. The next day, the same woman is shown still writing but now using a high tech computer. However, a few seconds later she shoved the monitor away from her desk and continues to write on the keyboard.

    What does this tell us? Do adults really belong to the digital immigrants group? Or is it only a few who remains as immigrants and others climbing their way to be a native?

    When our children were born, they have experience with technology first hand because technology is already there especially when it has a high entertainment value. On the other hand, adults were introduced to technology after they’ve familiar with the traditional tech like typewriters, written memos and letters. Since they’re comfortable using it, it is hard for them to make an effort and learn new ones. Even though modern technology promises faster service, user friendly and broader functions, to learn it for the first time is pretty much a bother to them.
    Whichever you are, native or immigrant, the most important thing is you yourself are a technology savvy. If you were born in a digital era but clueless about technology, can you call yourself a digital native?

    For a child, it is true that digital tech has been around them since they were born. Typically they grow up with technology and develop a sharp skill in it. Nevertheless, it does not apply to every child. Some were born underprivileged and modernity is not something the family could afford. Hence, growing up without technology will not make them a digital native.

    Whilst adult can either be good or ignorant in technology. My father is always keen to buy the latest model of anything that is digital. Contrary to my mother, she is still struggling in using Microsoft Words. This is simply because my father is still actively working even after he is retired. He’s also particular with quality and performance of a product; that is why he always prefers latest technologies which provide simple usage, sleek design and excellence functions. My mother, who has retired from teaching almost 20 years ago doesn’t have the need to know about technology. But recently when she had the chance to write a script, she experienced the hardest problem understanding the basic functions in Microsoft Word. So even if both of them are digital immigrants, it is not necessarily means they lack of digital knowledge.

    But as for the characteristic between a digital native and digital immigrants, they are indeed the new generation and the older generation respectively. But why bother about that? Isn’t the knowledge we should be concerned about?

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