It’s an interesting set of metaphors being bandied about for the demographic explanation of technology adoption.
Technically, I fall into the “digital immigrant” category, solely based on the year of my birth. In today’s business climate, that could be viewed as somewhat unfortunate.
Unfortunate because the notion of “digital immigrant” versus “digital native” is one of ageism, simply masked as an assumption over technological understanding and adeptness.
A digital immigrant is deemed to be someone who grew up in an era wrought with questions over “how did you ever manage” and “were televisions really that big” (in terms of physical depth, not screen size). A digital immigrant is someone who, through the passing of time, was forced into accepting the integration of modern technology … apparently.
In surreptitious terms – old.
A digital native, naturally, is deemed to be someone who has grown up with technology, and incorporated as part of their very existence. Sort of, “what was the world like before they invented colour” and “what do you mean you had to get up and change the channel”.
In less than subtle terms – young.
As the son of an actual immigrant, I take offence to the associated belief that simply due to the year of my birth I’m somewhat technologically unable. And, as the “digital immigrant” father of two “digital natives”, I take offence over the assumption I’m somewhat technologically challenged because of my age. Even more so when I’m sitting in front of some newfangled piece of technological confoundery explaining how it works … to the digital natives.
The creator of the terms, Marc Prensky, has repeatedly had to roll back his initial perspective on digital “immigrant” versus “native” as more and more light was shone on the idea that it could be used as a method of ageism.
When we reflect on history, we can see that many a great country, and business, was built on the backs of immigrants. Through sweat and toil, they were the ones who broke ground and laid a foundation where no precedent had been set. They created, failed and succeeded without the YouTube DIY videos and Google.
Without immigration, there would no … us.
Of course, having recently spent a year as an actual immigrant – sort of a citizen with a flimsy claim to citizenship in the land of my ancestry – I had the opportunity to further experience what it was like to be discriminated against. Despite my ethnicity and passport, it was my accent that would be first met with disdain – but only until those with judgement in their hearts and ears learned that my nationality was not the one they suspected it to be. No, once discovering that my vocabulary was imbibed with “eh” rather than “huh”, I met with an embracing acceptance.
When we look at the rapidly evolving digital world, we need to recognize that the whole concept was built by the so-called digital immigrants – brilliant individuals who had no precedent to go on, developing technology that had no track record, or blueprint.
This was the generation (is the generation) that had to learn to adapt fast, and innovate even faster – and continues to do so today. Technology wasn’t something that was handed to them with a three-year unlimited texting and 5GB data plan, no questions asked. This was the generation that had to toil in the soil in order to make it that easy.
As executive vice president of Center for Human Capital Innovation Anne Loehr wrote in her Fast Company piece:
“Companies that advertise job openings for ‘digital natives’ may think they’re simply appealing to the most tech-adept candidates out there. But they aren’t. When an older worker – even someone in their late thirties – spots that term in a job listing, they’re likely to think applying is a waste of time. This is a loss for organizations.”