What Is a Digital Immigrant?

A digital immigrant is a term used to refer to a person who was raised prior to the digital age. These individuals, often in the Generation-X/Xennial generations and older, did not grow up with ubiquitous computing or the internet, and so have had to adapt to the new language and practice of digital technologies. This can be contrasted with digital natives who know no other world than one defined by the internet and smart devices.

Key Takeaways

  • A digital immigrant is a person who grew up before the internet and other digital computing devices were ubiquitous - and so have had to adapt and learn these technologies.
  • Generally those born before the year 1985 (those before the Millennial generation) are considered to be digital immigrants.
  • Those born after 1985 are digital natives, having grown up only in a world defined by the internet and smart devices.

Understanding Digital Immigrants

Digital immigrant is a term coined by Mark Prensky in 2001 to describe anyone who grew up prior to the digital age. Generally people are considered to be digital immigrants if they were born prior to 1985. They were introduced to technology later in life and adopted its use as opposed to digital natives who are said to have been raised alongside developing technologies.

The idea of the digital immigrant grew from the complaint that teachers were having a hard time communicating with the newer generation due to a technology gap; students who were digital natives were speaking a different language than their older, digital immigrant teachers. This gap called for a change to the way educators interacted with their students so that they could learn in a way that made sense in the digital age.

The idea of the digital immigrant is not without controversy. It implies that there is a definitive gap between the two generations and does not account for people who were born prior to 1985 who may have had a role in developing these technologies. It doesn’t account for the people who seamlessly adapted to the digital age. It also doesn’t take into consideration an entire population of children that don’t have access to the internet and other common technologies who may find themselves outsiders in both groups.

What is the Digital Age?

The digital age is also known as the new media age, the computer age, and the information age. It began more or less in the 1970s when the first personal computer was introduced, and continues in the present day.

As the availability of technology and ease of access continues to grow, technology's presence in the world becomes more ubiquitous. Even compared to just ten years ago, reliance on technology has grown significantly. Currently, it is almost impossible to find a company that doesn’t use the internet for some aspect of conducting business.

From businesses to personal use, technology is everywhere, and it’s smaller than ever, too. Many phones today possess the same capabilities of a home computer. The internet makes it possible for people to access information from almost anywhere in the world in a matter of moments.

While technology continues to grow, adaptation is sometimes slow to follow. As many digital immigrants discover when they interact with their younger counterparts, a language barrier exists between the two groups because of how much easier it is for digital natives to quickly learn any new technology introduced to them. Digital immigrants still find themselves adjusting to the digital age even though most of them have been living in it for decades.