Ideas Opinion Technology

From Natives & Immigrants to Visitors & Residents

This is definitely an Ideas post. It’s an initial foray and putting some ideas into words for the sake of stimulating a discussion. 

I’ve been aware of Marc Prensky’s work around Digital Natives and Immigrants for a number of years and watched it be critiqued, evaluated, dismissed, revised and challenged. Personally, I’ve never really felt comfortable with the premise. It bugged me the fact that it was age related and based upon arbitrary generational lines which left me feeling like i was in no-mans land. I was in the age bracket of immigrant but behaved like a native.

Despite this, for a while now I’ve had a persistent desire to try and place myself into the framework, perhaps driven by a desire to fit in. Using Prensky’s terminology I toyed with the concept of a ‘Digital First People’ – those that aided and abetted in the creation of the digital space. The terminology however felt all wrong and I couldn’t with any conscience stretch the metaphor to equate myself or my work with the reality and challenges of indigenous people.

Recently I came across a newer set of terms – Visitors and Residents – through a conversation with Joyce Seitzinger on Twitter. I really like this terminology far more and felt that there was something inherent and powerful about ‘residing” – of being in and part of a place and culture. Perhaps this came from my time living overseas because there is something about being, living, working and interacting that cannot be experienced by a visitor. You have not experienced a culture nor can you understand it in any true sense without an embedded experience. This phrasing felt more akin to my life experience than being born of a certain generation.

….but, the binary component didn’t sit well. There are too many distortions, apparitions and extremes to account for. I know that originally the terminology wasn’t a choice of either/or, but was meant to create a continuum. However it seems to lack depth and is just too narrow a focus. I then found a post from David Jones from 2011 which asked whether we needed a third option of “builder/creator”. I agree completely with David’s argument because I feel that my work tends to operate beyond the simplicity of a visitor or a resident – I tend to inhabit a professional space that sits outside those norms. The function of builders and creators is essentially to find, discover and explore what’s new and enrich and establish something for those that come after. To trail-blaze and way-find for others to follow. However at the other end of the scale there are those who just don’t want to. They aren’t Visitors – but more simplistic beings who just manage to be there. So what I’ve done is expand the continuum out further – adding two new groups.

Pioneers & Tourists.

Pioneers in the digital realm are the builders and makers – essentially trailblazers in this environment. They forge ahead of the rest exploring, building, discovering and learning. They tend to operate self-sufficiently and work alone or in small independent groups. They lead rather than follow. They require space, clean air and enjoy the vista of untapped potential. The pioneer though is not a loner, essentially they want to share what they have found with the world. They want to establish and change practices in new environments, but inevitably once they have achieved this they need to leave and find new territory to explore. Their use, allegiance and loyalty is not to driven by whats at hand (think location & technologies) but praxis. Ultimately the Pioneer seeks a journey rather than a destination.

At the other end of the scale sits the tourist. Essentially they are self interested, willing to travel but within a strict comfort zone from which they will never leave. They follow well worn paths and seek only experience not adventure. They expect comfort & support and rely on a guided and structured route, journey and timetable. Without this structure they quickly become lost – often terminally – after which they retreat back to the comfort zone more hesitant than before. In essence they are naive which makes them and their actions often seem obnoxious and rude.  Tourists seek experiences without risk or effort on their behalf and always seek to compare in order to process their journey. They are willing and accepting of others who are more adventurous, but feel that a method of participation just “isn’t for them”.

Once we add Pioneers and Tourists we end up with a continuum like this:

Practinioner Continuum

Comparing the Terms

My original interest in this whole space sprang from Joyce tweeting a pic of some of her ideas. I likes the idea of being able to quickly compare terms so I’ve developed up a rough table and added my expanded terms. It’s by no means perfect – in fact it probably needs quite a bit of work – but it’s a map of my initial thinking:

Values Tourist Visitor Resident Pioneer
Loyal to Themselves Organisation Community Cause
Service Human on Demand Human Appointment Self Service Info on Demand
Meeting Space My Place Neutral Ground Informal Spaces Anywhere
Ideas Receive via broadcast Researched Communal Develop
Communicate Face-to-face Regular Meetings Connected Community Constant Buzz
Noise vs Signal Pure Signal Tuning In Searching for Signals Noise
Discovery Told Learnt Worked With Worked On
Copes with Change Never With Support Conservative Radical
Drives Change Never Rarely Serving their Interest Always

These really are ideas and perceptions of how different practitioners work – I’m open to conversation around them.

The Continuum

This whole idea doesn’t work if we apply the terms as simple categories – instead it is meant to be a sliding scale that encompasses all of our behaviours. As practitioners we are the mobile component that transition from Tourist to Pioneer. These are not concrete or permanent overall categories we get dumped in – we move along the continuum in the different areas of our work and lives. For example I am a tourist when it comes to Facebook, but feel more like a resident on Twitter. I’m a visitor around pedagogy but work as a pioneer when it comes to developing learning content. My idea was to move a little further away from a binary and add more nuance to the scale, to explain the fringes a little better.

Let me know what you think! I’d love to hear your thoughts…


By Tim Klapdor

Passionate about good design, motivated by the power of media and enchanted by the opportunities of technology.

2 replies on “From Natives & Immigrants to Visitors & Residents”

G’day Tim, Obviously I agree with some of the drivers behind the desire to expand the visitor/resident idea and obviously the builder/renovator idea definitely resonates with my identity, perhaps a little better than pioneer.

I also think the comparison of the terms is a good idea. An attempt to recognise that people are different which might form a step toward recognise a need for different approaches to support and encouragement. Though I think, as you acknowledge, there’s room for some work in the values in your initial mapping.

e.g. Under “service” and reflecting the “builder” ethos, I’m looking for permission to build. To modify the environment in which I operate. Not something that’s forthcoming in enterprise e-learning.

Uncertain about “constant buzz” under “communicate”. I’d also argue that I don’t go in for “radical” change. It’s not how I cope. Instead, it gets back to your point about praxis. Always engaging, moving forward, tweaking and through this on-going process eventually (over time) perhaps appearing to be radical to those who haven’t been on the same journey.

I’m sure there are other perspectives.


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