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Why it’s good to be a digital immigrant

Two different streams of ideas from around Online Information:

  • First one, covered in the panel The Facebook generation and touched by other speakers is about digital natives, those who grow up online, and their differences from the rest of us.
  • The second one, outside of the conference, over food and walking with Matt is about cultural stereotypes so deeply engrained that we don’t even know they are there until we experience something that triggers reflection.

Well, those two connected to today’s talk with Robert about our fist computing experiences. For me it personal computing started with AGATs and black-and-green screen Robotrons. We had a Robotron at home for a while and I helped my mom with her NGO work by doing some database programming. I also remember my dismay when my university freshman programming course was scheduled in a class full of Robotrons and not in those with newer and fancier PCs (of course I wanted newer and fancier machines to play with ;). The teacher then said that “if you can program on Robotrons, anything else will be peanuts”.

Now, looking back at my personal computing history I’m thinking that he was probably right. Not that I can program anything now (I’ve learnt that being good at programming doesn’t mean loving it :), but I’m happy having all those “old computing” experiences – text only black and green screens, points-and-nodes BBS culture, disconnected emails, fascination with those magic WWW letters… Those are not just romanticised memories – I’m happy to have those experiences as they help me to understand what new technologies bring (and what do they take away). It helps to make conscious choices about the aspects of digital cultures I want in my life, rather than growing with them and may be never discovering that some cultural stereotypes don’t serve me well.

Ewan McIntosh said he didn’t like the whole digital immigrants/digital natives terminology. I like it, exactly for the power of the metaphor. A piece from Watching the English (discussed in another context) on the Englishness of natives and immigrants:

For those of us without the benefit of early, first-hand influence of another culture, some aspects of Englishness can be so deeply ingrained that we find it almost impossible to shake them off, even when it is clearly in our interested to do so [ ]. Immigrants have the advantage of being able to pick and choose more freely, often adopting the more desirable English quirks and habits while carefully steering clear of the more ludicrous ones. [p.18]

The metaphor also brings other concerns – those of inclusion and exclusion, integration and cultural diversity. I hope that at least I can teach my own little digital native some of non-digital cultures 🙂


Archived version of this entry is available at http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2007/12/08.html#a1964; comments are here.

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