Digital ‘residents’ and ‘visitors’ form a metaphor for people’s engagement with online technology.
Residents live a part of their life online. They use the Web for work, study and recreation; they are comfortable expressing themselves and their opinions in online communities and maintain a digital identity through social networking sites (White, 2008).
Visitors are those who use the Web more sparingly and selectively. They have a functional approach, setting time aside to perform specific tasks such as booking a holiday and afterwards disengaging. Visitors have little interest in and are sceptical of online culture (White, 2008).
These terms were created to update Prensky’s initial concept of digital ‘natives’ and ‘immigrants’ (2001). Prensky categorised digital users by drawing a connection between computing competence and age: those born in the digital age were privileged learners able to absorb the digital language naturally as they grew up, unlike older learners whose age supposedly handicapped them.
White (2011) challenged the metaphor underlying Prensky’s theory, arguing that learning technological skills is not so similar to learning a second language. This followed a general shift from thinking about a digital language to an idea of digital literacy.
For me, a Resident describes my Aunt, and a Visitor my brother. My Aunt has a busy London lifestyle and is always engaging with social media, she also maintains a professional online profile as a popular published Nutritionist with a website and blog. In contrast, my brother is suspicious of social media and keeps a very low online profile. He is, however, very technologically able, but while he uses his ability for learning and entertainment, he retains a classically Visitor status. This proves the complexity of individual digital literacy and forms a contrasting example to Prensky’s age theory.
White (2014) asserts that Resident and Visitor are not binaries but form opposite ends of a spectrum, on which most people fall somewhere in between, adopting ‘resident modes’ and ‘visitor modes’ alternatively. While I find this reasoning much more open-minded than the previous theory, how to analyse my own digital identity remains unclear. Furthermore, I am unsure of the most desirable position on the spectrum. White (2008) states that ‘Both sides of this argument are correct… it’s a question of approach and motivation’. He certainly forms an interesting and ambivalent distinction, which refuses to be based upon age, gender, or even skill.
It will be interesting to observe the next metaphoric update in the development of the digital world.
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Harris, L., Warren, L., Leah, J., & Ashleigh, M. (2010) Small steps across the chasm: Ideas for embedding a culture of open education in the university sector. Education Technology & Social Media (Special Issue, Part 2), 16(1).
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On The Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.
White, D. (2008). Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’. TALL blog.
White, D. (2014). Visitors and Residents (video). University of Oxford.
White, D., & Le Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).
Featured Image. https://speechdudes.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/digital-native.jpg.
Infographic. Made in Microsoft Word.