Last week, at JISC’s digifest event, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr Donna Lanclos offer ‘four provocations’: she blogged about them here:

While I was interested in the broad sweep of what she had to say – and the conversations that followed in the Q&A, the Digital Native bit caught my attention particularly. Ever since Prensky’s 2001 article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, there have been critics of the idea, which hasn’t stopped the nomenclature becoming fairly commonplace. I’m not going to get drawn down that rabbit-hole, in terms of critiquing the whole literature on young-people and technology (and I think he made some useful observations and got us thinking about usage models, and it isn’t is fault that many went on to make rather crass, unthinking use of the terms) – but I was struck by one point Lanclos made.

This was that the native/immigrant typology is ultimately a problematic one. ‘Native’ and ‘Immigrant’ have troubling echoes in their political deployment and history, and serve us badly in this context. The troubling connotation that Lanclos picks out regards the manner in which such terms seem to imply an incommensurability between the groups: As an ‘immigrant’, the way of the ‘native’ is forever closed off to to. Their mindset remains impenetrable. She rightly considers this troubling, at least. She then makes reference to the, preferable visitor/resident idea. David White, from Oxford University, explains this idea in the video below.

David, and Alison Le Cornu, published a (very good) piece entitled: Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement – in 2011 – but I still hear someone refer to Digital Natives about once a week. The term clearly needs retiring, but seems to have a zombie-like re-animation powers. Coming back to White and Le Cornu’s piece – they make, at the end of the article, reference to Prensky having probably over-estimated the age/generational aspects, but speculate about the extent of generational shift in relation to privacy and ideas of friendship. I think they are right to pick these two out, but also in being cautious. It is very easy to make sweeping statements about how these are, allegedly, being changed (by, say, Social Media), but very little serious evidence, and some measure of caution may be wise.

To add a little ungrounded, anecdotal, impression from myself – observing students engage with technology throughout the 21st century so far, what strikes me is the diversity of modes of engagement. Different types of media accessed, different modes of engaging, (although mobile is as ubiquitous with undergraduates as you might imagine, if not more so). The visitor/resident model is some use here, but will need, I feel, extending. People reside in a diversity of ways, and the nature, approach and style of visiting is far from uniform. As internet-use matures, we will have to develop a more subtle, sophisticated typology of engagement models that may be less catchy than ‘natives’ has proven to be, but more in step with the way usage is actually developing – out there in the wilds of the digital-human interface