Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants & Resident Aliens

The above are new terms that have emerged to describe the young, middle•aged and old people in our digital society today; a radical immigration model for a new world where one’s degree of foreignness grows with age.

The theory goes that young people, “the digital natives,” i.e. those born after the Internet know nothing about paper encyclopaedias, postal mail and about paying for content. Their preferred shop for most things is found online. They don’t have to memorize anything – just ask God, I mean, Google. Their relationships are vast and temporary, their attention spans are fragile and they outgrow things pretty quick, not just clothes – just ask Facebook. They are often seen talking to themselves in public, and if you see the little earpiece called a tooth, you know that they are not mad.

On the other side of the divide are the old people, “the resident aliens,” born and matured before the Internet. They wonder why postal rates are going up and door•to•door postal delivery is vanishing as their limbs are just starting to give way. They still like to connect with people in person at the mall or at the church, and they use the telephone a lot, especially to call long distance. They maintain lifelong relationships with friends and family and volunteer spare time to worthy causes, as long as retirement incomes remain steady and recession•proof. The Internet is a mystery, another pesky thing that they need to stay away from for there is all that reputed scamming and pornography out there (unless one is into that kinda thing, heh, heh!).

Then there are those in the middle, the digital immigrants, who were born before the Internet but who matured during the period when cyberspace went from a mild pastime to a robust highway along which most information began to flow. Some of these people gave up desk jobs of pushing paper and started pushing buttons on their desktops instead. Some careers changed, some were lost forever. The digital immigrants had to adapt or perish with each subsequent wave of technology, and they found it hard, for their retirements were diminished or vanished and they were re•inventing themselves to just stay relevant, even if they did not believe in the roles they now had to play. They compete with the digital natives for jobs and yet long to be resident aliens.

Being an immigrant (a real one) and now being classified a digital immigrant, suits me, for the art of survival is similar: stay alert, continuously learn, do not be afraid to experiment and make mistakes, take nothing for granted, work smart, and live lean. And yet, every new version of technology takes me further away from the centre.  I wonder how tough it must be for real world natives who have come to expect a world of order and entitlement, and who now find themselves as digital immigrants or resident aliens in digital society? They did not consciously immigrate anywhere, like I did, but their world changed on them nevertheless, landing them in a foreign place. This is the hardest kind of immigration to undertake – the reluctant kind. It likens one to a refugee of war or other social upheaval.

I wonder if these considerations are taken into account as we push along our relentless path to automate everything, or whether these costs will have to be borne by the larger society when we end up with a majority of jobless digital immigrants and resident aliens run by a minority of digital natives and their tech toys.