Digital Native vs. Digital Immigrant; Not a very Flattering or Accurate Argument

I came across these terms while reviewing some training material for work. I found the concepts behind these terms to be very interesting especially in regards to how these differing perspectives could impact our lives not only professionally but personally.

There is a whole generation of Digital Immigrants (people born prior to 1980) who are struggling to teach the entire generation of Digital Natives (born on or after 1980). There is a belief or point of view that a Digital Native and a Digital Immigrant have difficulties communicating. Digital Immigrants in fact speak a different language and struggle to communicate in terms that the Digital Natives can understand and relate to. Being a “Digital Native” myself and having reviewed various thought articles on the differences between how a Digital Native and Digital Immigrant can interact with each other (and also the conflicts between the two generations) I can relate.

As with any language barrier (or gap in understanding) this can lead to frustration and even some conflict between the generations.  Of course not all Digital Natives are technologically inclined and not all Digital Immigrants are incapable of communicating effectively on the same level as a native. There are plenty of Digital Immigrants who excel at a farther pace then a good majority of the Digital Natives. Let us not forget it was the Digital Immigrants who created the initial technology that ushered in the digital age. Obviously someone had to have been thinking outside the box to have created the Digital language to begin with. So I do not necessarily believe that initial belief of where the line falls to differentiate between the Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives to be an accurate one. I do believe there is a difference in how children who are born after the birth of the digital age think and learn though. Children nowadays are learning and demonstrating at an earlier age a higher level of intelligence and understanding that even some of us who fall into the earlier years of the Digital Native timeframe ever did.

I found the concept of the Digital Native to be engaging, and thought-provoking but when you couple it with the phrase Digital Immigrant the argument or concept behind the two of them together is insulting. The digital age ushered in an explosion in technology (especially in the last 15 years) but that does not mean that those born prior to 1980 have somehow been left behind. I know plenty of “digital Immigrants” who are more natives in this digital world then the rest of us.

It is inaccurate and unflattering to call those born prior to 1980 immigrants. They are the ones who created digital technology in the first place. I think it would be better to eliminate the terms all together then to try to split the generations in such a general way. I have worked with both types of customers those who refuse to learn or understand digital technology and those who can keep pace with me and even at times are faster to the point. I have also been privileged enough to have a 90-year-old grandmother who has learned in great detail how to use her iPhone to the max. It is always a good day when I get a picture via text message from her. She loves receiving messages and pictures via text even if she doesn’t get to see us every day. She may not be able to keep up with text abbreviations (I’m 30 and refuse to use too many of them either) but it doesn’t mean she is speaking a different language or is incapable of learning a new one either.


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