Visitor or resident? This “digital native” can’t seem to settle down.

For the past two weeks, the problem-based learning (PBL) group I’m in has been discussing digital technology and the emotions it can trigger – from excitement to unease to all-consuming rage. Many of our conversations have been structured around the visitor-resident model proposed by White & Le Cornu (2011), wherein visitors to the internet view the web as “akin to an untidy garden tool shed” and residents see it as more of a place to socialize and live a part of their life. Following this model, each PBL group member reflected on where on the visitor-resident spectrum they fell and how this varied greatly depending on the digital platform they were using. My personal reflection map is shared above, and I think it clearly shows (or at least hints at) two things:

  1. I really shy away from creating online content when I can’t 100% control or identify who interacts with it. Communicating my research to a known group of students through an LMS (e.g., Moodle, Canvas, or Athena) is a very different experience from the tooth-pulling agony of tweeting about my recent articles. Although I know disseminating new findings is important, I’ve seen far too many sexist and xenophobic comments on other scientists’ work to be truly comfortable opening myself up to anonymous interactions.
  2. Because of the above, I lean heavily towards being a digital visitor. In my professional life, I view the web as somewhere I can go for information or new bioinformatic softwares that will make my job easier – not somewhere I go to talk to others. This isn’t due to lack of familiarity with digital platforms, but rather due to personal preferences.

At face value, these two points might not be too shocking. Plenty of the professors in my department have expressed similar views and prefer one-on-one emails to answering questions on Twitter. The real kicker here is that I’m a 20-something that writes code for a living and has been using a computer since kindergarten. In other words, I’m the “digital native” Prensky (2001) tried to warn you about – if such a thing exists. Shouldn’t I be sharing pictures of my avocado toast on Instagram and tagging my supervisor in #relatable biologist memes?

I’m inclined to believe that exposure to digital technology from a young age doesn’t necessarily correlate with willingness or comfortability in using it to interact with others. After all, my 80-year-old grandmother has more of a social media presence than I do, thanks to her habit of live-commenting on her favorite K-dramas. I’m not yet sure what this all means from a teaching perspective, but perhaps it’s something for me to keep in mind next time a student is reluctant to post on a message board or participate in a tweet chat.

Works cited:

White, D. S., & Le Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16 (9).

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9 (5). doi: 10.1108/10748120110424816

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  1. Hi Hanna
    I find this post quite interesting , which looks in a different perspective contrary to the popular belief of youngsters being comfortable in the digital world while the digital immigrants not being so. I agree with you on this. Additionally in a way youngsters may feel insecure in the online space as well ,particularly as they have more awareness of the misuse of digital technologies.

  2. Very insightful and also I do agree that just because technology and social media in introduced at an early age there is no certainty as to whether or not that person is destined to be a digital native or a digital visitor – as I believe that lies in the psychology of an individual through all the experiences that shape the way the think or interact with the world.

    Thanks for a great read!

  3. Elisabeth Ahlinder

    So true, we are persons with personal preferences with regards to social interactions regardless of whether the interaction takes place online or face to face. Your example of you grandmother and her interaction on social media is fantastic, and so positive for all of us that will be able to interact and be social in our old days even if we are unable to leave our homes as much. Like you, if prefer to keep my professional interactions through publicists and publivations through scientific databases, but I am like you aware of the fact that it would be to my benefit if I avtually do start sharing some of my professional life on linkedin/twitter.

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