Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Native? Immigrant? Inhabitant? Visitor? Who cares?

Posted by lpearle on 13 July 2011

In April I heard John Palfrey, author of Born Digital, speak.  Thanks to his book, we now use the terms “digital native” and “digital immigrant” – terms that have annoyed me since they first emerged.

Why?  Because I don’t believe that they’re good descriptions of a generation.  What I mean is, I – a member of the Baby Boomer generation – am considered an “immigrant” because I didn’t grow up with computers.  Or did I?  My father (whose original training was in electrical engineering) created what we referred to as “blinky lights”, a series of lightbulbs that we could program to blink in patterns or randomly (like those on a marquee, only small enough to be a night light).  He brought home a Commodore PET and I learned BASIC as a teen; my first post-college job had me learning CalcStar and WordStar (remember those?).  I’ve helped business offices automate, creating templates for mail merges in WordPerfect (still a better program than MSWord!), and installed upgrades to Windows OS.  Why haven’t I gone Mac?  I like getting to the C:> and feeling more in control of my computer (much as I prefer driving manual).  My other “native” creds?  My cousin created the first version of spell check.

A couple of months ago I was doing something with Photoshop and one of my students was amazed at the control I had over my mouse.  “I can’t believe you’re so good”, he said, “because I’m not and I’m supposed to be a digital native.”  My argument isn’t that I’m special, but that those of us that have used computers longer than college students have been alive shouldn’t be considered “immigrants”.  We’re natives, too – just a different kind.

Maybe we all need to stop using that term, because it’s really more like the stages of life: I’m a digital adult.  My students?  Digital teens (playing, practicing, still learning but not needing training wheels).  And my father, who taught a course on how to build computers and use them in the 70s?  Clearly he’s a digital grandfather.

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