In 2001 it was proposed by Marc Prensky that younger generations, who were brought up in a digital world, are entirely competent using the internet. He described these younger members of society as digital ‘natives.’
Conversely, he expressed that older users were still able to ‘learn to exist’ online, but would never be ‘fully competent.’ Something like learning a foreign language. They were known by Prensky, as ‘immigrants.’
This view was challenged by David White and Alison Le Cornu of Oxford University (2011), who proposed an idea based not on age, but on ‘our motivation to engage.’ This proposition of the different ways in which we use the internet, depicts a continuum of the different users of the internet with two contrasting categories; visitors and residents. This model is not one that separates users into two mutually explicit categories, meaning we can be placed anywhere along said continuum depending on our online activity at any given time. This is shown below.
A visitor uses the internet as a toolbox, selecting the tool they need for the task at hand then going offline, barely leaving behind a ‘social trace’ of themselves or their actions. For example, performing a Google search.
This is contrasted by residents, who are immersed in the online world. These ‘prosumers.’ often go online to create content and interact with others and the content created by them. This interaction contributes to our online identity, which remains once we come offline. This leads to an experience described by White, where there is an increasingly blurred distinction between online and offline.
White further develops this theory, creating a second axis on the continuum based on whether we use the internet for personal or institutional use. He claims that, unless we compartmentalise our online lives, as we do in the real world, we may find ourselves ‘blurring the boundaries’ between work and leisure.
This continuum means that it is difficult to place ourselves on one specific spot between visitors and residents, however, we can place our individual online activity along the spectrum.
I share opinions, photos and activities online through my accounts on many social media platforms. Therefore, the majority of my actions would place me towards the resident end of the continuum, especially as a personal user. However, much of my activity, including my research towards this blog post, can be placed on the opposite end of the continuum. It can be classed as the activity of an institutional online visitor.
White, D. S. & Le Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday. 16
White, D. S. (2008). Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’ online. Tallblog.
White D. (2014). Visitors and Residents. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPOG3iThmRI.