Saturday, March 3, 2012

Immigrant vs. Native

With my experience as a “digital immigrant” and parent of “digital natives”, Henry Jenkins’s “Combating the Participation Gap” really resonated with me, as did Howard Rheingold’s interview of 12-year-old Adora Svitak.

My daughters (19 and 16 years) have on occasion over the last two years of my studies concluded that I was learning about things they already knew about and in some cases they were right. And when I had question about how to do something, I’d ask them, and sometimes they’d share something cool/ new that they had learned of. As Jenkins notes, relationships are different now and the roles may be reversed with a younger person advising an older one. Certainly as immigrant and natives we have a “difference in experience” as Jenkins says.

Jenkins advises that adults have a responsibility to get online with their kids, to direct and share their experiences, just like they go to their children’s soccer games.  The solution is not to cut off their access to the net and benefits of online participation.

I agree. I supported my children’s online experience through the provision of computers, high speed internet, cell phones, iPods and then smartphones.  At some point early on, their knowledge of how and what they could do online overtook my knowledge.

About five years ago, my eldest daughter took to a social media site called Nexopia. Fortunately she shared it with me and we were able to talk a bit about the reality of the internet and what was appropriate. However one of her friends was not so wary - flaunting seductive poses in her profile pic, and then bragging online about her prank at school that then got her in trouble. This same friend had more than 1000 friends on Nexopia, the privacy setting of sharing with “friends and their friends” probably left it pretty open to predators. (Note the recent story about Nexopia and privacy.)

Kids do try roles on, online, and do make mistakes there. And they need to know appropriate `netiquette‘ (as Adora Svitak counselled Howard Rheingold).

Jenkins discusses “cosplay” as a skill of networking. Chloe is a girl who likes sewing and dressing up in anime character costumes and through this cosplay she develops her networking skill. Coincidentally, this also describes my 18-year-old niece, Chloe.

Multi-tasking is also a skill to participate in the online world according to Jenkins. This comes naturally to the girls.  The challenge is to effectively manage their attention on the right things. This is a definitely a skill or a discipline to be nurtured.

Appropriation is a skill that requires the digital native to understand the difference between cutting and pasting text into your essay, and appropriating and remixing content for the purposes of creativity. (Second daughter learned this one in grade 10!)

In spite of what little guidance and teaching we parents were able to provide, I estimate that my daughters are well equipped to participate online and receive the benefit from this resource. I did enjoy helping my daughter find a citation online for Nietzsche this afternoon. Seems there are still a few things I can show them!


  1. Interesting word choice. I am not sure that there is such a thing as a digital immigrant unless your talking about migrating from the iPhone to Android. I like to think that everyone knows good netiquette in their heart because we have all been affected by computers. Digital nativity started when the first bible went into an electronic format.

  2. Barb, I've had similar experiences with my teenage daughters and new media. There's definitely been some knowledge sharing both ways. My kids are more fluent in most new media than I am, and have given me lots of insight into how social media can be used.

    However, as Jenkins points out, those immersed in an environment are, like fish, not always able to see the water they're swimming in. (Wasn't that originally a McLuhanism?) Because they're swimming so easily in media, they don't always recognize the issues - ethics, privacy, etc. - that are all around them. We've had some interesting discussions around appropriate self-representation online, appropriate multi-tasking behaviour, and the issue of "permanent record" that Jenkins touches on.

    I cross the credibility line with my kids, though, when I talk about issues around trusting information to the cloud. Since they can't remember a pre-Internet world, and have only seen ever-increasing opportunities for sharing, collaboration, and storage, it is difficult for them to appreciate that many of the services they enjoy the use of are run by for-profit organizations which may not always have their users' best interests at heart. Situations such as users losing data in the Megaupload takedown give me an opportunity to prove that I may be overly cautious, but not a hopeless conspiracy theorist.

    Newman, J. (2012). MegaUpload Users Look Into Suing U.S. Over Lost Files. PCWorld, Jan. 26, 2012. Retrieved from:

  3. Barb that is an interesting post. As you know I don't think there is such a clear division between digital immigrants and digital natives. Your daughters might well be literate in the online environment but that literacy may well stem from a general literacy that you have taught - rather than being something ephemeral and related to the use of technology. It sounds like your daughters are displaying signs of transliteracy - being literate across platforms. THAT is what we should be encouraging, as parents, as teaching; showing how to use our day-to-day literacies (being aware of signs in a general sense) in the online environment. The story of your daughter's friend, flaunting inappropriate poses - suggests that in real life she also was not fully literate as she "bragged" about her role-play.

    On another note, am impressed your daughter was looking for Nietzsche!

  4. Interestingly, my second daughter has just started writing and receiving letters from three international penpals she found on the internet. It's hard for me to grasp why anyone would want to do that - since you can communicate across the world in minutes via the internet! However, I am pleased that she is transliterate across digital and analog technologies.

    Perhaps is a bit of the same thing that made my older daughter buy a record player and records.

  5. Penpals! So letter-writing is not such a lost art :)

  6. Great post, Barb.

    I must admit that I wasn't familiar with the perils of commercially owned sites and tethered technology before the MACT program. Barb, have you read Jonathan Zittrain's "Saving the Internet" article from the Harvard Business Review? We read it in our COMM 503 class and it may help your daughters learn about how companies control the technology and sites we use. The article describes how the openness that helped generate the web is also its largest downfall. As more technological devices restrict what we can do on the web, such as iPads not allowing Flash sites, users become confined and it hurts the generativity of the net.

    But the most important aspect of the article for me was his discussion that our tethered devices, such as iPhones, Androids, and PVR recorders connect with the Internet, the company that we purchased them from can still control how we use them. If Apple wanted to, they could shut off every iPhone. This takes control away from the end users and puts us at their mercy. If you don't want to update your software, you may no longer be able to access the iTunes store. It reminds me of the article I posted earlier this semester about Amazon changing the books it offers because they couldn’t reach an agreement with publishers. Large corporations have more control over the content we access than we realize.


    Priluck, J. (2012). Amazon pulls 5,000 books from Kindle store., retrieved March 10, 2012 from

    Zittrain, J. (2007). Saving the internet. Harvard Business Review (June), 49-59.