A growing body of research on digital natives is started to emerge. A digital native can be defined as a person who was born after the introduction of digital technology. Digital Natives use online services like Facebook, YouTube, Hulu, and Twitter on various digital technologies, such as smart phones or a tablet device. Digital Natives have blended their online life with their offline life.
Researchers use the term digital immigrant to classify people born before the introduction of digital technology. For Digital Immigrants, the popular technology for them was radio, television, newspapers, books, and magazines. Digital Immigrants are adapting to the digital technology introduced during their life time. Ironically, some Digital Immigrants created the digital technology used by Digital Natives.
Different Types of Digital Immigrants
If you are a Digital Immigrant, it does not mean you are automatically technically inept. You can actually be very technically astute. Digital Immigrants will have to deal with Digital Natives, as illustrated below by Rupert Murdoch.
As shown above, Murdoch explains that Digital Immigrants must begin to assimilate into the Digital Native culture and their way of thinking. While the sentiment sounds good, it may not be as easy as you might initially think.
Not all Digital Immigrants fit into a single category. Current research classifies Digital Immigrants into three categories:
This group does not adapt to new technology quickly, if ever. For example, my father-in-law still gets the newspaper, orders cigars through the mail, and uses the USPS to deliver letters to his friends. He is happy with his life.
- Reluctant Adopters.
This group is aware of new technology and adopts to it at a slow pace. In many respects, I fall into this group. For example, I still have a second generation phone. It took me 10 years to finally get a DVR, even though I knew it would change how I watch television as soon as I saw it. I am happy with my life.
- Eager Adopters.
This group enthusiastically adapts to new technology. They embrace it. For example, Jeremy Johnson, one of the organizers of the Big Design Conference, falls into this group. He seems to be plugged into every device, network, tech trend, and so on. Jeremy personifies an Eager Adopter. Jeremy is happy with his life, too.
Digitial Immigrants can never become Digital Natives because they were not born after the introduction of digital technology. Eager Adopters, however, are clearly the class Digital Immigrants that can relate more closely to most Digital Natives.
Different Types of Digital Natives, Too
We tend to think all Digital Natives have their brains wired into a series of global social networks, as illustrated below.
In the same way that Digital Immigrants can be classified into three distinct groups, some interesting research from Dr. Ofer Zur (a Digital Immigrant) and Azzia Zur (a Digital Native) classifies Digital Natives into three sub-categories:
This group consists of people, who are born during the digital age, and do not desire new technology. They are not enamored with Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, or Hulu. For example, I know a 14-year old, who prefers to paint portraits. She owns an iPad, only because her school books are on it. She only watches public television. She sings in the church choir. She is very happy.
This group is aware that digital technology is a part of their daily life. They choose to interact with only the most interesting things to them personally. For example, I know a young person who does not have a Twitter account and avoids Facebook. She is not a gamer. She sends emails and downloads books to her Kindle.
- Enthusiastic Participants.
This group is the largest group of Digital Natives. Like their Digital Immigrant cousins the Eager Adopters, Enthusiastic Participants embrace and use all forms of digital technology. This group prefers texting and tweeting over sending out email blasts. They are aware of the latest technology, trends, and tools. Their online and offline lives are blending together.
You need to understand the differences in Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives because of how these two groups interact. Digital Immigrants are the parents, teachers, and managers of Digital Natives.
Getting the Most from Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives
To effectively interact in some situations, you need to know if someone is a Digital Immigrant or Digital Native. In some cases, you can simply look at a person, see their age, and know. In other cases, you need to ask a few questions. How old are you? When did you get your first computer? Are you a student? You can always explain about the difference between a Digital Native and Digital Immigrants, too. Ask someone which group they think they belong in.
When Similarity is Important
You probably noticed that some Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives classifications are almost identical. A Digital Immigrant, who is an Eager Adopter, will naturally work well with a Digital Native, who is an Enthusiastic Participant. They will probably text each other, follow each other on Facebook, share online stories about similar interests, and talk about the latest gadgets and technology.
When you need to get like-minded people together on a project look for the complementary styles Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives. For example, you need to focus on some kind innovation. Eager Participants and Early Adopters can envision the future. When you want to determine if your innovative ideas can be implemented into the market, you might want to have Reluctant Adopters and Minimalists review it for additional insights.
When Diversity is Important
In some cases, you want diversity more than similarity. You need a fresh perspective, coaching, and so on. Assume you are a C-level executive that understands your business. You have been steadily moving up at your company. You understand the business forces affecting your company, their customers, and your products. You are a Digital Immigrant, who is a Reluctant Adopter. You need a Digital Native, who is an Eager Participant, because you want to target touch devices, social networks, and mobile platforms. In this situation, the Digital Immigrant needs coaching from a Digital Native.
For designers, you want a diversity of viewpoints when you build your products. Consider recruiting Eager Adopters, Reluctant Adopters, Minimalists, and Avoiders for market research and usability testing purposes. The different viewpoints give you insights into what motivates these groups. The “tipping point” for any product occurs when Reluctant Adopters and Minimalists want your product. Their diverse insight is crucial to your design research and product success.
Where do you see your “self”?
Are you a Digital Immigrant or Digital Native?
How do you see your family and friends?
Let us know. Add some comments below.