Digital Immigrants Raising Digital Natives

I’m struggling a bit with raising wired children (and thriving myself) in a wired society. Maybe you share my issues. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Your son is playing Club Penguin on the computer in the kitchen; your daughter is simultaneously playing Club Penguin in the same “virtual world” from a computer in the family room. Meanwhile, your backyard swingset sits empty and forlorn.
  • You notice kids standing together at the bus stop. They aren’t speaking to each other. Their heads are down as they all text furiously.
  • A co-worker across the aisle sends you an instant message asking, “Where’s lunch?” She could have swiveled in her chair to ask you directly, saving herself almost 20 keystrokes and seeing you wince at her initial restaurant suggestion, which would have saved yet 20 more keystrokes in reply.
  • You send a funny e-mail to a cubicle mate a row away. She responds “LOL” (laugh out loud), yet you never actually heard her laugh out loud. This gives you pause. Was your e-mail funny or is she just sparing your feelings with a social fib?

I am reminded more and more of the terms that best describe these phenomena: Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives.  I am the former because, although the PC revolution came about while I was in school, the machines were clunky, slow, and not yet part of daily living. I’ve had to make an effort to learn everything I know, which makes me a digitial immigrant.

Our kids, on the other hand, are all digital natives. They’ve grown up using the computer and all other digital devices. MS Office is their second language. Digital life is so intuitive for them, they learned to attach a file before they learned to tie their shoes.

Thinking in terms of the native/immigrant metaphor helps explain why we need each other to navigate. The “natives” need us as mentors on how to relate in the real, three-dimensional world, where you converse in person – not via text message – while we need them to help us keep up to speed with seamlessly integrating technology into our lives. We may have joked about programming our own parents’ VCRs, but our kids will show us the apps that will help us run the household, get things done, and generally make life easier. They’ll also inform us that “laugh out loud” isn’t always meant literally. 

I’ll probably never understand some digital native pursuits, like spending hours clothing virtual penguins and decorating virtual igloos. I’m just hoping these diversions will keep them from developing a virtual ”visit your digital immigrant mom in the nursing home” app one day, LOL.