Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

19 July 2007

Digital Gibberish

Clark @ 2:58 AM

I have to admit that I’m a contrarian sometimes, and this Digital Native Digital Immigrant thing was cute for a while, even useful for some awareness raising, but at the end of the day, I think it’s false. The premise is that kids are growing up with a digital world, and that the multi-tasking nature of their lives is different leading to different expectations. The more sophisticated version of the argument is based in Vygotskian forms of psychology, where the tools you use change the way you think.

Consequently, we see calls for more use of media, games, community, etc. There’s a push for shorter, more engaging content, less verbosity and more ‘presentation’, etc. All good things, but for the wrong reasons.

This is a topic I’m willing to be wrong on, but so far I don’t see it. The extension to the Vygotskian argument is that it would have to be a whole new culture, but this sub-culture is still grounded in the prevailing mind-set of 21st century earth. So, wherever it’s flourishing, it’s still not fundamentally different.

Here’s why: we still have the same wetware, and we’re still processing the same languages and viewpoints. It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary. Yes, there are and will be changes from an environment where more people can share their viewpoint (and see the controversy over Andrew Keen’s view that the internet is destroying culture), but it’ll be gradual, and from a learning point of view what’s best is still what’s best.

The funny thing is, all the stuff they’re touting for the digital generation is really what’s best for the older generation too (ecommunity, immersive simulations, rich media). We just couldn’t do it before. So it’s a fun argument to lobby for doing what’s right, but it’s based upon a false premise and that I can’t abide.

It’s ironic that I, who’ve generally been a rebel (e.g. my views are further apart from the mainstream than either major party is from each other), am coming down with such a ‘establishment’ view, but it’s what my reason tells me. I’m happy to be wrong, so let me know where I’ve missed it.


  1. I’m with you Clark. It’s nonsense to believe that people are changing fundamentally because of recent changes to technology. Their behaviours, expectations, values and preferences might have shifted somewhat, as they always do from generation to generation, but basically they want the same things all humans have always wanted. Young people don’t want the older people that they encounter at work to try to be like them or to pander to their tastes – they’re happy with the generation gap. It’s more important that they adjust to the culture of work than vice versa.

    Comment by Clive Shepherd — 19 July 2007 @ 3:56 AM

  2. I just wanted to leave a quick comment in regards to today’s blog. I agree that the way in which we learn and/or are taught, is different now to the way it was even 10 years ago. This, of course, will have an affect on culture but has created a sub-culture that, for many, is the only way that they know. When it comes to learning, the resources that are available to us now, greatly out-do those that were available a couple of years ago – so this has to be an advantage?

    Comment by Greer Garnham — 19 July 2007 @ 7:33 AM

  3. I like how you phrase it being evolutionary and not so much revolutionary, Clark. Perhaps it’s a matter of degrees insofar as the Millenials have a greater degree of facility with tech, they’ve a larger degree of media exposure and saturation, the degree to which they’ve been marketed, and so on.
    I’ve found the digital native vs digital immigrant useful insofar as (Marc Prensky said this to me) we immigrants ‘speak with an accent.’ It’s not that there is fundamental differences between the two. It’s more about the reactions of the groups given the same situation. And that is a difference of accent – for instance, an immigrant is more apt to print an email; whereas a native more often does not.

    Comment by Rory Chalcraft — 20 July 2007 @ 1:50 AM

  4. Clive, I like the ‘not being pandedered to’. There might need to be some accommodations at work to a ‘rip mix burn’ world, but it’ll be the organization adjusting to new capabilities, not HR accommodating new individuals.

    Greer, I don’t think we learn differently, but will agree that we know how to teach better, partly as a matter of having new technologies. But you’re right, while it’s true for all, we are better equipped.

    Rory, I didn’t touch computers ’til college, but I’ve programmed them, managed projects developing new capabilities and systems on them, and help people use them. Am I a native or an immigrant? My colleague is 10 years older than me, I don’t think he touched computers ’til college either, but his PhD thesis developed a read/write system for all available authoring languages, he’s a CTO, runs server farms for his clients/colleagues, and knows more about technology than 99% of people. Is he native or immigrant? I print papers when they’re longer than a few pages (not just email), but it’s about my eyes (reading at 96 dpi vs 1200), not about my brain. Yes, evolutionary, and maybe there’s an accent, but while my 10 year old can play games better than I can, I can explain *how* it does things and figure out how to problem-solve systems better than he. At least, so far ;).

    The one other thing I forgot to mention was the ‘multi-tasking’. I’m sorry, but ask any mother about multi-tasking. It’s not a new brain, it’s just a new set of technologies. Though I’m willing (or even inclined) to believe that the ability to share, edit, create, and publish may have some lasting changes on culture.

    Comment by Clark — 20 July 2007 @ 3:26 AM

  5. Clark, whether or not one is expert or more knowledgeable or more capable is not a differentiator between a native and immigrant. For instance, although I was born into an English speaking family and culture, I’ve met plenty of folks for whom English is not their native language and who nonetheless are better at composition than I.
    So my answer to both your questions is that you and your colleague are indeed immigrants.
    Does this change the substantial nature of how we learn? No. I think, like you stated, that we’ve just got better tools to work with now than before.

    Comment by Rory Chalcraft — 20 July 2007 @ 4:25 AM

  6. There is a difference between how you and your son process information. He does not have the blinders we adults have learned to wear. We are ham-strung by our vestigial beliefs. Learning a new computer game or how to set your new digital watch provides an example. I have a tough time with either. My son gives it a whirl, with no prior knowledge, and things fall into place.

    Granted, you and I can pass for natives in some realms, e.g. navigating the web, but I think we’re blind to many things we locked in on when our young brains were open to new concepts.

    Unlearning is a bitch.


    Comment by Jay Cross — 20 July 2007 @ 7:05 PM

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