Before understanding and evaluating the concept of ‘Digital Residents’ and ‘Digital Visitors’, we must first explore the proposed concept of ‘Digital Natives’ and ‘Digital Immigrants’. Prensky (2001) suggests users of the web can be sorted into 2 categories. ‘Digital Natives’, are those who are native speakers of the digital language. They have been born in a digital era and thus use this as their primary language, enabling them to access and use the internet efficiently. Visitors, on the other hand, may access the digital world but can never truly be ‘Native’ as they were not born in the digital era and thus a digital language will always be secondary. Prensky focusses on the different competency of the two which is restrictive and generalises based upon age-dependant factors.
Thus, White and Cornu (2011) conceptualised ‘Digital Residents’ and ‘Digital Visitors’, adapting its predecessor. Their idea moves attention towards whether individuals use the web as a ‘tool’ or view the space as a ‘place’. 10 years after Prensky’s theories, they understand the shifting of the web away from information gathering to social media platforms as facilitating ‘the construction, by the individual, of complex social networks not constrained by physical geography’ (White and Cornu (2011). Residents then, understand the web as this ‘place’ through which they can share information and interact with people, effectively living some of their life online. They belong to a community and therefore leave a trace when they log off, through their connections and their online identity. Visitors lack this digital identity and instead use various elements of the web as and when they need it, leaving little trace when they retreat.
I do believe, however, that we can also critique this Resident / Visitor concept. Whilst it recognises age as relevant in terms of cultural differences, for example through concerns over online security and different notions of ‘friendship’, and not relevant in terms of ability, it actually disregards ability in its entirety. The Native / Immigrant comparison highlighted the importance of understanding different abilities and access of individuals and asked us to consider catering for those less involved. Although flawed, intentions were positive. White and Corni’s (2011) idea considerately places people on a spectrum of Visitor and Resident, but this essentially identifies whether they have a digital profile and their online ‘motivations’. In their quest to offer an alternative, they have offered an accurate concept, but one lacking in benefits.
Prensky, M. (2001) ‘Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1’, On the Horizon, 9(5), pp. 1–6. doi: 10.1108/10748120110424816.
White, D.S. and Cornu, A.L. (2011) ‘Visitors and residents: A new typology for online engagement’, First Monday, 16(9).