Digital Visitors & Residents

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.continuum

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:




  1. Hello Harry,

    Really appreciated your first blog – great read!

    I particularly enjoyed how you found a source who argued against the original views of Prensky as I also agree with ‘motivation to engage’ as a main determinant to determine the different types of users online. I also liked the ‘toolbox’ metaphor that you used to describe a visitors motive, it was interesting and a perfect analogy to help differentiate from other users. Moreover, the diagram with two axis gives us a clear and easy way to visualise the crossover between different users online.

    Nevertheless, as you gave us an insight into the type of user you are, do you think there is a further argument or category for those users who, like yourself, are a personal resident user in certain circumstances and a institutional visitor in others?

    Thank you,


  2. Hi Harry,

    I really liked the way you outlined this post and I felt it was an interesting read. The way you described the concepts of digital residents and visitors was very clear and straight to the point. Points made throughout the post was consistent which allowed the whole blog to flow.
    The addition of diagrams also made it easier for me to understand the point’s you were making. I agree with you on point where you said that it is difficult for us to place ourselves one specific spot within the spectrum of being a resident or visitor. You also gave me insight on to White’s further research of stating we also have a personal and institutional use for technology. However, I would’ve liked the referencing to be clearer, a lot of good points were made but I don’t know where they came from specifically.


  3. Hi Harry, I really enjoyed reading your blog. It’s well laid out and your use of images breaks up the reading. I found it interesting that you went to explain White’s theory further, which is something I missed so it was good to find out more about his theory. In your blog, you talk about digital visitors and residents being categorised into age groups. Personally I think older users are more than capable of being just as IT literate as younger users, therefore his theory doesn’t apply to the modern day anymore.However, do you think that Prensky’s theory is still relevant? If so, then why?



  4. Hi Harry, really well researched article!

    I especially enjoyed the metaphor of the toolbox for describing a “visitor” and the reference to White’s second axis on the continuum, a thoroughly interesting second dimension to the continuum. The images you used were very simple but clear, very refreshing as I’ve seen too many that over complicate new concepts. The reference to the classification being based upon the “motivation to engage” I found particularly relevant, as with many people I know (regardless of age) it’s their attitude which underpins how prevalent they are online.

    It would be interesting to further develop your comments about your research for this displaying qualities of an online visitor. Would you not argue that there are actions typically defined as “visitor” behaviour, such as performing google searches and leaving no “social trace”, that would inevitably be encompassed in the actions of the resident?


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