Being There


Photo credit: Invasion by Henryleelucas

Dave White's recent post, Not 'Natives' or 'Immigrants' but 'Visitors' & 'Resident' slipped by largely without comment, which is a huge shame. It's a must-read post because it does what a lot of people have been trying to do and not managing that well – move us beyond Prensky's seminal dichotomy of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants.  Prensky's metaphors powerfully explain differences in approach and experience between users who have grown up with technologies (the natives) and older users who find difficulty in accessing new technological cultures and practices (the immigrants) as not just a cultural but a neurobiological one. Prensky's arguments are easy to knock down, particularly if you happen to subscribe to a more fluid account of development. What they haven't been however is easy to replace or move forward from. Dave's work probably succeeds in taking the argument forward precisely because it's user-centric, looking at how users engage with technologies. His research points up the importance of 'being there'; the distinction between users who inhabit a space or place online, and users who don't view themselves as having any kind of non-functional engagement with online environments and tools. Dave calls these visitors and residents (as you may have gathered from his academically typical unwieldy title), and if you haven't gone blind already head over to his post to see the initial sketching out of these roles. These are far more granular distinctions, robust enough to cut across socio-cultural differences, and agile enough to encompass a wide range of behaviors and belonging. my initial thoughts on seeing the post still stand:

"I think this is a big improvement on the native and immigrant
dichotomy, I really look forward to seeing how it moves forward.  It
seems very possible to be a resident on a specific social networking
service or site, but a visitor to other services and in all aspects of
web engagement. I think 'being there' is a useful concept to explore,
& possibly some strait forward measures of engagement. I also think
that peoples conceptions of privacy & being online are worthwhile
exploring in terms of their immersion levels. The Pew data from the end
of last year suggested that the majority (60%) of internet users aren't
worried about how much information is available about them online – I'm
suspicious that if true, this is because the people who are worried
stay off line/confine themselves to visitor-type behaviour."

UPDATE: Dave's video presentation on visitors & residents

6 thoughts on “Being There

  1. The ‘being there’ concept is a good way of describing the Residents approach to the web. Maybe this is a useful starting point for discussing the nature and importance of New Media Literacies.

  2. How weird – I was idly contemplating that the digital natives thing is a poor excuse for people not trying, and then finally ended up here and I met you yesterday!
    Regarding the post, I didn’t really identify with being a ‘resident’ but I think you cover that quite well in so far as people can switch roles.
    Not being especially poetic though, really I just regard the web as a tool and I think that perhaps when its considered as a ‘world’ it maybe makes too many people feel like aliens!

  3. Hi Mike. I think you’ve hit on an important point – most information civilians probably feel weird about the idea of being resident in an online environment. But, I guess if you asked “does your online activity involve any emotional engagement in addition to simply carrying out tasks” (although of course you wouldn’t ask it in quite that way) most people would identify at least moments when something online has made them laugh or get angry. Social Networking Services are frameworks for fostering that kind of emotional engagement & connectivity, so many people visit sites for pleasure as well as for the business of connecting – I’d argue these are all resident behavioral traits. Why I think this scale potentially works so well is that it can cover the nuances in engagement that apply to most non-geeky people’s experience.

  4. @Dave – hi Dave! I really think it’s a framework that can carry a lot of weight. Once you’ve identified resident scales and characteristics for example, you may have a lot of higher level digital literacy competencies mapped, since lots of these are going to involve online collaboration. You need to do some more work!

  5. Hi Josie,
    “Although many have found the terms useful … the distinction between digital natives and digital immigrants will become less relevant … I suggest we think in terms of digital wisdom.”
    Who says this? Why Marc Prensky of course! It looks like Marc wants to move on as well, this digital dichotomy of his has been a bit of a poisoned chalice and he has a lot of stick from it (some of it justified and some of it not).
    But is the term “digital wisdom” just another oxymoron?
    Source: Prensky, M. (2009).”H. Sapiens Digital: From Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom”. Innovate, 5(3).

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