Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants

There is a seminal article written a while back called: Digital Immigrants and Natives by Marc Prensky, that has vast implications on how we teach, parent and disciple children and teenagers.

This post consists of notes from a lecture by Kristin Anderson @ Bethel Seminary back in 2007 (which, for conversations on the current digital landscape might put some of this content a little bit out-of-date, but still relevant for understanding).

Marc Prensky offers some helpful insight as we think about reaching out to this next generation. He differentiates between digital immigrants (anyone born before 1974) and digital natives (anyone born after 1974). He chooses 1974 because that is the year that Pong (the video game) was introduced.

By the time the average digital native (those born after 1974) graduates from high school the following will be true:

  • 10,000 hours playing video games
  • 200,000 e-mails
  • 10,000 cell phone hours
  • 20,000 hours watching TV (often channel surfing or watching programming such as MTV with fast moving images)
  • 500,000 commercials
  • less than 5000 hours reading!

The reality is that the brain is a malleable substance and that brains are actually altered based upon the input they receive. Prensky believes that these experiences have changed them. It changes the way they relate to each other, the way they see the world, and I would add, has implications for how we do children’s and family ministry!

Characteristics of Digital Immigrant versus Digital Native

Digital native:

  • twitch speed
  • parallel processing
  • random accessing
  • visuals are primary, text illustrates
  • play orientated
  • connected culture

Digital immigrant:

  • conventional speed
  • linear thinking
  • step by step
  • graphics are primary, visuals illustrated
  • work orientated
  • stand-alone culture

Digital immigrants will always have a bit of an “accent”!

Here are some examples (You know you are a digital immigrant if…):

  • Print out your e-mails and put them in a file
  • Do not use instant messaging, or if you attempt to use it find it very difficult to have several conversations simultaneously with people
  • Do not think of using the internet first
  • Think real life happens off-line, in contrast digital natives believe that real life happens both on line and off line

Digital natives have a very rich e-life!

These are the kind of things that digital natives are doing on line:

  • Communicating – e-mail and IM
  • Sharing – blogs and webcams
  • Buying and selling – e-bay
  • Exchanging music and movies – download sites
  • Creating – websites being designed by upper elementary children, parents for their newborns
  • Meeting other people – chat rooms
  • Gaming – solo games, one on one games, multiple player games
  • Learning – researching and exploring things that interest them

Questions ???

How do we better minister and teach, informed by the reality that the children and some of their parents are digital natives and many of us are digital immigrants?

How do we reach out and partner with parents so that we have the greatest impact and kids develop an integrated faith?

What are the implications of ministering in a digital native culture?

Published by Jeremy Mavis

Married to one. Father of two. Friend to several. Blogger to many. Pastor to all. And a passionate follower of Jesus Christ.