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As both digital immigrants and digital natives, we are witnessing an evolution in technology brought about at a much faster rate during our lifetimes due to changes in technologies which build upon on one another.  This is something we typically didn’t see much of in the past because early adoption of new technologies happened in scientific communities, in the military and among the wealthy. Now, capitalism drives early adoption to the lowest level – the consumer – in order to increase profit, which in turn increases the demand for innovation, and so on. iPads, for example, seem to come out at least once a year these days, if not more often.

My father was born in 1928; he had no television, no phone in his home and cars were still fairly new. During his lifetime he has seen an explosion centered on electronic media – radio, records, reel to reel, 8 tracks, cassette decks, TV, VCRs, computers (desktop, laptop, iPads), CDs, DVDs, cell phones, the internet, mobile devices, cloud computing, social networking, etc. – and while he has enjoyed some of it, he views the more recent innovations as foreign. He has never used a desktop computer or laptop and just this last year I worked with him to get a basic cell phone. It was not the mobility of the device that attracted him, but the need to cut costs associated with living after retiring. His land line phone had finally become more expensive than a basic cell plan. My point is that some of us are what is known as “digital immigrants” while others are “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001).

As digital immigrants we witness things that are a change to what we consider the norm, as well as the changes that impact the associated etiquettes that accompany our social rituals. Twenty years ago meetings between people, either social or business, were not interrupted by phone calls or text messages. Interruptions were considered rude. Now interruptions are routine because we haven’t established social ground rules for them in regard to our use of mobile devices. So while some of us are offended when others stop mid-conversation to check an incoming text, to those that have grown up with the internet and mobile technologies, it’s normal, unless they have been taught by their families or society not to act in such a manner. In other words, it’s “us” and our customs that have not kept up with the changes in technology.  This all ties back to the topic of media literacy which is concerned with privacy, bullying and a myriad of other issues impacting the social environment. Digital natives (those who have come of age after the year 2000 according to Prensky) on the other hand think differently because they are just that – they have never known a world without the internet or many of the devices previously mentioned. Interestingly enough, researchers have confirmed that technology is rewiring our brains, so to speak, but that’s because we naturally adapt to changes in our environment (Prensky, 2001; Small, 2013; Stafford, 2012).

As for changes in technology that are not agreeable, consumers drive innovation. If enough of us don’t adopt an idea, it will die. I remember a few years back when biometric machines that allowed a user to pay for their groceries with the swipe of a fingerprint were made available in select stores – but no one used them and the initiative died. I asked the cashier about them and she stated that most people did not want to tie their physical being to their bank accounts. Speed of adoption can be startling though. Enjoy the attached Associated Press picture that captures the speed of technological adaption from the installation of one pope to another.

AP Photos

AP Photos


Prensky, M. (2001, October). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Part II: Do They Really Think Differently? On the Horizon, 9(6), 1-6.

Small, G. (2013). Research Shows that Internet is Rewiring Our Brains. Retrieved from UCLA Today: http://www.today.ucla.edu/portal/ut/PRN-081015_gary-small-ibrain.aspx

Stafford, T. (2012, April 24). Does the Internet Rewire Your Brain? Retrieved from BBC Future: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120424-does-the-internet-rewire-brains