Digital visitors, residents and me as a tour guide

One of the things many people say to me is that older people don’t ‘get’ new technologies where kids just do. This viewpoint was further supported by Prensky’s use of the expressions ‘digital native’ and ‘digital immigrant’ in a seminal article in 2001. Even Prensky has now acknowledged that the issues around digital literacy go beyond age, and he now uses the phrase ‘digital wisdom‘.

Although I think what Prensky has to say is still of interest, I’m very taken by the concepts put forward by Dave White at the TALL team at Oxford of: ‘Digital Visitors‘ and ‘Digital Residents‘. This is a much more nuanced way of looking at how we each approach digital resources and tools – and moves us nicely away from talking about age.

Here is Dave’s description of the two terms:

The ‘Resident’

The resident is an individual who lives a percentage of their life online. The web supports the projection of their identity and facilitates relationships. These are people who have a persona online which they regularly maintain. This persona is normally primarily in a social networking sites but it is also likely to be in evidence in blogs or comments, via image sharing services etc The Resident will of course interact with all the practical services such as banking, information retrieval and shopping etc but they will also use the web to socialise and to express themselves. They are likely to see the web as a worthwhile place to put forward an opinion. They often use the web in all aspects of the of their lives; professionally, for study and for recreation. In fact the resident considers that a certain portion of their social life is lived out online. The web has become a crucial aspect of how they present themselves and how they remain part of networks of friends or colleagues.

The ‘Visitor’

The Visitor is an individual who uses the web as a tool in an organised manner whenever the need arises. They may book a holiday or research a specific subject. They may choose to use a voice chat tool if they have friends or family abroad. Often the Visitor puts aside a specific time to go online rather than sitting down at a screen to maintain their presence at any point during the day. They always have an appropriate and focused need to use the web but don’t ‘reside’ there. They are sceptical of services that offer them the ability to put their identity online as don’t feel the need to express themselves by participating in online culture in the same manner as a Resident. In effect the Resident has a presence online which they are constantly developing while the Visitor logs on, performs a specific task and then logs off.


He goes on to describe this as a spectrum and that there are places online where he is more of a visitor than a resident and vice versa.

I really like this metaphor, it shows that we all have different levels of engagement and expertise when it comes to using digital technology. Some children, for example, might be ‘resident’ in an online game like Farmville but definitely a visitor when it came to something like LinkedIn.

It’s not that kids ‘get’ technology any more than adults particularly, it’s more that we all use digital technologies as they relate to our need for them. My mum learnt to email because she wanted to communicate with my brother who lives in New York. If there is a need there, people will learn how to do stuff.

To take the metaphor a little further, I guess in some spaces on the web, I see myself as a bit of a tour guide for those visiting, but not living in, residential areas of the web like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn!

Where are you a digital resident and a digital visitor?

Here is a great presentation from Dave on this concept, I would encourage you to watch it as it is a really great way of understanding the issues at play:

Update 3rd November:

Some further blog posts on this topic have been brought to my attention:

David Hopkins ‘Digital Native/Immigrant or Resident/Visitor’:

SWW TEL picks quoting the TALL blog:

Feel free to add any further references below! Thanks.


  1. As an old bloke who punched cards to be eaten by computers in rooms where the air was sucked out and the operators wore space suits; as an old bloke who even worked with analogue computers: as an old bloke who can’t quite see the point of Facebook: I prefer to call myself a digital aborigine


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