Here’s a confession. Get ready for it. It’s a big one: I’m old. Like, Generation-X old. I’m closer to 40 than 30. Thus, I’m not a digital native. I was not born after the introduction of digital technology. No, I’m not a teenager or even a twentysomething. I was born far before you could upload songs to an iPod with the touch of a button. I’m a “digital immigrant,” born before the high-tech progress of laptops, cell phones, and even the internet changed our world.
And here’s the worst part of my day.
It happened just a few minutes ago. I sit down at my computer, and there are a million things that I could do, none of which I’m very good at. Should I read one of the hundreds of blogs that could change my thinking, touch my heart, or teach me about another world or another life? Should I connect with one of several social media programs that I’m still learning slowly? Should I write my own new content and put it out into the world? Should I make a more personal connection with e-mail or chatting?
I start to get overwhelmed, anxious, frustrated, even upset. Every day I realize: I will never be able to do it all, read everything that I want, connect as much as I want, learn as much as I want. And I frequently get impatient and angry with myself.
The possibilities are endless, and they’re not natural to me. For me, it’s a daily struggle to find my way in this new world. Access to information and connection is everywhere, but to me, it’s not a smooth transition. It’s like a foreign language, and I’m slowly becoming fluent.
I’m a digital immigrant, slowly adapting to this new world. There are so many choices, so many ways of interacting.
Some say that there are three types of digital immigrants:
1. Avoiders: People who don’t adapt to new technology at all. They might still get the newspaper delivered, refuse to text, or be unwilling to learn how to use a new smartphone.
2. Reluctant Adopters: They know about the new forms of technology and are slowly figuring it out. They’re not hostile, just wary and a bit overwhelmed. This is probably me. (I was one of my last friends to get a cell phone, for instance. I hate texting, but I’ll do it.)
3. Eager Adopters: They are enthusiastic to try and adopt all forms of new technology. They’re the first to try out every new tech trend and device.
There’s been a lot written about why we should be cautious about the changes in our culture, in how kids learn, in how we process and attend to information, because of new technology. (I just wrote about my concerns a couple weeks ago over how smartphones are changing our kids’ attentional skills.)
But I think that we digital immigrants can also learn from digital natives. And they can help us to use new technology to make our lives richer and easier. Here are a few lessons that we digital immigrants can learn from the natives:
1. They think of technology as an extension of themselves. They don’t view the online world as separate from the “real” world. Because it’s really not.
2. Learning has changed forever, and that’s good for our kids. Really. Rote memorization, constant lectures, and even the traditional classroom environment more generally are not the best way to learn. And we should embrace that in our lives. There are endless possibilities to learn skills and make new connections.
3. Stop worrying about it, and just do it. That’s what digital natives do. Have you ever seen a kid use an iPad? They’re not worried about using the software correctly or being able to repeat what they just did the next time. They just go.
I will never be a digital native, but my son will be and I never want to be an alien in his technological world. And I’m trying to let go of my anxieties and fear of failure and just embrace technology. It’s more than a tool; it’s a changing world. That’s scary but also kind of fun.
So that worst part of my day, when I sit down at the computer and get overwhelmed and want to open the nearest novel (not on my Kindle) or just turn on the easy television? I’m slowly getting over it. Just don’t ask me to like it all the time.
What kind of digital immigrant are you? How did you learn to embrace technology?