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FLASHBACK: I'm not a digital immigrant, am I? - Odessa American: Opinions

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FLASHBACK: I'm not a digital immigrant, am I?

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Posted: Sunday, August 10, 2014 10:00 am

A few months back, I discovered that apparently, I and others of my ilk and age are classified as digital immigrants because we are those folks born before the advent of digital technology. The young uns that held cell phones in their tiny hands in their cribs are described as digital natives.

Columnist Jeff DeGraff says that the difference between digital immigrants and digital natives is indeed generational, but he postulates that it has very little to do with technology.

Where digital natives imagine a world with little institutional structure and open access to people of diverse backgrounds, the culture of digital immigrants is a meritocracy. Typically a more aggressive, competitive and results-obsessed generation, they are often seen as cutthroat by their younger associates. Well I don’t know about that Jeff, but we are vastly different.

The advantage here is productivity: digital immigrants are goal oriented as opposed to the value orientation of the digital native, DeGraff surmises. While they (natives) have the ability to get things done quickly they may overlook the long term consequences of their actions.

OK, I get that.

But maybe I’m not a digital immigrant at all and neither are all of the other older folks who have witnessed the evolution of technology. Hell, it was our generation (maybe just a few years older than myself) that invented everything.

I remember the first computer I ever used – and we (the tellers and staff at Odessa Savings and Loan, thought they were so high tech. It was 1980, and the computers stood about four and a half feet high, sounded like a vacuum cleaner when you turned them on and rather than a screen, there was a roll of paper. Every time we did a transaction, and it took, the computer would affirm the transaction by printing “right on, thank you,” on the page. In the offices, we usually had one CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) which was an analog monitor with a keyboard and very limited functions. We loved them! Then there was the Quip machine…anyone? This predated the fax, and to use it, you loaded each page one at a time on a cylinder. The device had a cradle for the phone, and the fax came one page at a time.

And DeGraff agrees, but says we may have invented the stuff, but in the beginning we weren’t exactly sure how it was going to be used.

“Think about this: Digital immigrants may have invented the technologies that digital natives use but didn't accurately anticipate how they would use them,” DeGraff wrote. “For example, text messaging (SMS) was developed in the 1980s as an easy way for service engineers to quickly communicate regarding outages and replacement parts. It would have been unimaginable then that young people would chat and twitter using the service instead of talking on the phone. It is the combination of the two world views that has produced for better or worse a new form of communication and multibillion-dollar industry.”

But in the end, as the natives continuously adapt to leaner and meaner technology and the immigrants struggle to learn yet another bit of it, harmony can be achieved. The natives can teach the immigrants about how not to be intimidated by the continuous evolution of technology. And the immigrants can teach the natives a thing or two about how to achieve goals quickly.

And DeGraff said the irony is that, eventually, we will come full circle: The children of digital natives will act like digital immigrants. This is just how things work he said. And it is true, just as with our parents, we see the world differently from the people who came before us. If you haven’t already, if you’re a native, start a dialogue with an immigrant and if you’re an immigrant, start a dialogue with a native

You’ll learn a lot. I do every day!

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