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Thread: Beyond Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives

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    Default Beyond Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives

    "Digital Natives," as popular usage has it, are those people who have grown up immersed in (digital) technology. The reference typically refers to children. I don't know if there's a formal age cutoff, but I'll argue that anyone born in 1993* or thereafter qualifies

    "Digital Immigrants," by comparison, are those who have been immersed (sometimes against their will) in technology much later in life. Age doesn't really work as a cutoff here, so I'll put a line in the sand and say that Digital Immigrants are those first exposed to digital technology in 2003 (10 years after my Digital Native date.

    I started thinking about this in earnest when I realized that DN and DI aren't the only two possibilities. So I'm coining (as far as I know) a third category--"Digital Explorers." DEs are those people born before 1993 who first encountered digital technology as that technology first started to hit the mainstream.

    For instance, I first used the Apple Macintosh (introduced in 1984, I think) in college, and prior to that, had done some basic (BASIC) programming on line printers in high school. Am I a Digital Native? Certainly not, as I recall with painful clarity typing out papers in high school on a mechanical device called a typewriter. But nor am I late to the game in the manner of a Digital Immigrant.

    Thoughts/comments? Are there any practical implications of this, or do we simply need to accept that we're in a transition period, and that in not too many years, there won't be many "Immigrants" left (we'll all be native)?


    *I chose 1993 because it's the year the Web really took off. A fun fact that I read somewhere is that when Bill Clinton took office that year, there were 50 Web sites. Not 50,000, or 50,000,000, but 50. 1993 makes some sense, as those children turned 5 in 1998, by which time the Web had really taken hold, and by which time most of those children had encountered (and mastered) digital technology in their pre-literate years. Of course, there are many children in the US and elsewhere on the wrong side of the "Digital Divide"--these children will be future "Digital Immigrants."

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    Lightbulb Digital Reality

    I think each of us, depending upon age and history will have a slightly different story of how we became acclimated to the digital world. In 1971 as a senior in High School I was using an early PDP computer and 6 bit ASCII yellow paper tape, the CDC and IBM punch cards of the mid 1970's seemed like a giant leap especially when they used 8 bit ASCII. The TI-59 calculator with macro assembly language was the first real programming language I used and that was 1978... it actually had a thermal printer and I could make graphs !

    The Mac of 1984 changed my life forever and the desktop publishing of apple in 1988 revolutionized communication for everybody. This was 5 years prior to the 1993 event that you mention Jeff.

    We are on an exponential curve now and have been since the late 1990's. People will be thrown into the digital age now because of necessity. If you don't do digital it will be harder to stay in touch, get the news, do banking, make plans, keep up on and on. (You might even start to see laptops at the Board of Selectmen table)
    The force is very strong and there is no turning back.

    I offer this YouTube as a stimulating set of examples

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cL9Wu2kWwSY
    Last edited by AlanJReiss; 04-15-2009 at 03:18 PM. Reason: Added sentence

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    My reference to 1993 wasn't with respect to adults, but to kids. My guess is that it's been about ten years since kids were "automatically" introduced to digital technology as they hit their 2s, 3s, 4s, and 5s.

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    Default I get it

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    My reference to 1993 wasn't with respect to adults, but to kids. My guess is that it's been about ten years since kids were "automatically" introduced to digital technology as they hit their 2s, 3s, 4s, and 5s.
    No, I get it - I still think I'm a kid.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    "Digital Natives," as popular usage has it, are those people who have grown up immersed in (digital) technology.
    You can't draw any meaningful conclusions with "digital technology" as a discriminator; its far too broad. More specificity is required, e.g. "Web search" or "digital image manipulation" or "computer-aided mechanical design" or "simulated protein folding".

    Furthermore, technologies and problem solving techniques can change radically over time, to the point where experience with early versions of a technology can be useless or even harmful. For example, some software developers with experience stretching back to they early days of computing have had difficulty transitioning to declarative, object-oriented languages; for them, early immersion was a curse, not a blessing. If the semantic web ever takes off, we might one day find that early experience with Google is not always a positive indicator.

    So no, this taxonomy is not generally useful.

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    I wasn't making the case that this taxonomy is useful--I just found it to be interesting. That said, being aware of it might help with efforts to introduce new technology and help the immigrants (and any others with need) adapt to it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I wasn't making the case that this taxonomy is useful--I just found it to be interesting. That said, being aware of it might help with efforts to introduce new technology and help the immigrants (and any others with need) adapt to it.
    As is the case with many broad generalizations and stereotypes, putting any serious weight on this one is as likely to cause harm as good.

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    Dave, I'm sensing a combativeness beyond what this topic deserves--perhaps that's just post campaign-election-Town Meeting nerve endings still being too close to the surface! [grin] I'm pretty sure that I haven't proposed any ironclad policy being based on these characterizations.

    As we continue to deliver technology professional development to our teachers, however, our thinking might benefit from keeping in mind the different needs of those proficient with technology, those coming new to the game, and those who might be resistive. These would simply be guiding thoughts, though, not binding.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Dave, I'm sensing a combativeness beyond what this topic deserves--perhaps that's just post campaign-election-Town Meeting nerve endings still being too close to the surface! [grin] I'm pretty sure that I haven't proposed any ironclad policy being based on these characterizations.
    You described a taxonomy that I know from personal experience does not work and can be harmful. I explained why. Your responses ignore the downside, and you seem no less committed to its use:

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    As we continue to deliver technology professional development to our teachers, however, our thinking might benefit from keeping in mind the different needs of those proficient with technology, those coming new to the game, and those who might be resistive.
    If you plan to ignore critical feedback, then don't request it.

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    Dave, I recommend you read more carefully. I said *nothing* about ignoring your feedback. In fact, I agreed that the "taxonomy" at hand should not be applied in any ironclad way. I then suggested one way in which it might be usefully applied.

    As for your programming example, that speaks more to an individual's ability to adapt than it does to a disadvantage of prior experience. I suspect that on average, prior experience is a plus and not a minus, with digital technology being no exception.

    To be sure, it makes no sense to apply *any* framework or model rigidly, an observation that perhaps borders on the obvious.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    As for your programming example, that speaks more to an individual's ability to adapt than it does to a disadvantage of prior experience. I suspect that on average, prior experience is a plus and not a minus, with digital technology being no exception.
    The need to consider individuals rather than make broad generalizations and the need to be more specific than "digital technology" were precisely the point of my first response.

    It's much easier to help people with no experience than to help people lots of bad experience. Prior experience is only a plus if it was good experience, rather than experience that established bad habits. While it may be true that on average, prior experience is a plus and not a minus, this statistic is irrelevant; what matters is the experience of the individual(s) involved.

    Recall Christensen's point in "Disrupting Class" that early schools had no choice but to generalize, despite the negative impact on those to whom the generalizations did not apply. We can do better now.

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    Dave, I think you're describing an orthogonal (and also useful) taxonomy having to do with ability and need to change. I can almost imagine a McKinsey-like 2x2 grid.


    Ability---easy-----1------|------2
    to------------------------|----------
    change----hard-----3------|------4

    ----------------minor----------major
    -------------------Need to change

    Quadrants 1 and 3 represent situations where there's no real need to change. It may be a mistake to imagine that these apply to much at all--it may well be that *everyone* is in a situation where they need to be able to change.

    Quadrants 1 and 2 represent people who are good at change (whether or not they need to be).

    The challenge is really for Quadrant 4--those people who need to change, but aren't easily able to do so.

    As with Digital Natives, Immigrants, and Explorers, this is just a framework for thinking about the different needs of different people, particularly those who need help dealing with change. Maybe it's useful, maybe it's not.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Dave, I think you're describing an orthogonal (and also useful) taxonomy having to do with ability and need to change. I can almost imagine a McKinsey-like 2x2 grid.


    Ability---easy-----1------|------2
    to------------------------|----------
    change----hard-----3------|------4

    ----------------minor----------major
    -------------------Need to change

    Quadrants 1 and 3 represent situations where there's no real need to change. It may be a mistake to imagine that these apply to much at all--it may well be that *everyone* is in a situation where they need to be able to change.

    Quadrants 1 and 2 represent people who are good at change (whether or not they need to be).

    The challenge is really for Quadrant 4--those people who need to change, but aren't easily able to do so.
    You must have me confused with someone else, Jeff. Nothing I have posted in this thread is remotely related to the above grid.

    Broad generalizations such as as the above and your proposed "Digital Natives, Immigrants, and Explorers" taxonomy are the problem, not the solution.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    As with Digital Natives, Immigrants, and Explorers, this is just a framework for thinking about the different needs of different people, particularly those who need help dealing with change. Maybe it's useful, maybe it's not.
    Suppose you encounter a person with no film or darkroom experience who has for years been comfortably using Flickr to edit images - a clear "Digital Native", by your scheme. How would this categorization help you choose the best online tool to help this person understand trigonometry?

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    Hey, Dave, turn it down a notch, okay--it's just a discussion board! [grin]

    I re-read your earlier posts. You did in fact introduce the notion of "difficulty of change," citing early software developers now struggling with object-oriented code. I extended the idea a bit. Yours was a generalization that by your own statement is part of the "problem."

    As to your Flickr/online trigonometry tool example, given your description, there's no evidence at all to suggest a fit. But if Ms. Flickr were up against Mr. Darkroom for the job, and if Ms. Flickr's experience included working with online training tools while Mr. Darkroom had never really worked with computers, Ms. Flicker might have a leg up.

    If there's any problem here, it's the notion that generalizations are harmful. Sure, if you rigidly adhere to them, you run the risk of being wrong, perhaps dreadfully so. I'll argue, however, that one of the capabilities that makes humans effective (and perhaps even practical) is the ability to generalize.

    We create models (generalizations) to help us recognize situations and apply past learning and experience. Town government is a model. We have a general idea of what to expect--budget guidelines from the Finance Committee in the fall, budget development in the fall and early winter, budget "negotiation" later in the winter, and voting at the polls and Town Meeting in the spring. The issues and objections change each year, but being prepared for that is part of the model too.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Hey, Dave, turn it down a notch, okay--it's just a discussion board! [grin]

    I re-read your earlier posts. You did in fact introduce the notion of "difficulty of change," citing early software developers now struggling with object-oriented code. I extended the idea a bit. Yours was a generalization that by your own statement is part of the "problem."
    No. I said

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Bernstein View Post
    For example, some software developers with experience stretching back to they early days of computing have had difficulty transitioning to declarative, object-oriented languages; for them, early immersion was a curse, not a blessing.
    Note the third word, some. This is not a generalization, its an example of why generalizations about people can be wrong or harmful.

    Jeff, you have a nasty habit of twisting words, either to re-inforce your own position or to make it easier to undermine a position with which you disagree. I will call you on this every time.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    As to your Flickr/online trigonometry tool example, given your description, there's no evidence at all to suggest a fit.
    Precisely right. The fact that a person has lots of online experience with Flickr tells you little about their needs for online trigonometry instruction. This illustrates why I consider the taxonomy you originally proposed to be useless.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    But if Ms. Flickr were up against Mr. Darkroom for the job, and if Ms. Flickr's experience included working with online training tools while Mr. Darkroom had never really worked with computers, Ms. Flicker might have a leg up.
    Applying generalizations while interviewing candidates for a job is equally fraught with danger. Some users of Flickr are purely button-pushers, with no understanding of how images are digitally represented or manipulated; others are initimately familiar with its algorithms because they developed them.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    If there's any problem here, it's the notion that generalizations are harmful. Sure, if you rigidly adhere to them, you run the risk of being wrong, perhaps dreadfully so. I'll argue, however, that one of the capabilities that makes humans effective (and perhaps even practical) is the ability to generalize.
    Our neocortex is a powerful prediction engine that assembles a model of the world and only calls our attention to discrepancies and surprises; if it didn't work this way, we'd be inundated by the information from our senses. So yes, generalization is deeply ingrained. However, our rise has been characterized by a growing ability to selectively rather than instinctively apply innate capabilities. Our ability to generalize about the way the physical world works does free us to think and apply judgement, but when applied to individuals, generalization often leads us astray.

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