Academic Digital

RESEARCH: Digital Visitors and Residents

daveowhiteI’m really interested in Dave White’s work on ‘Digital Visitors and Residents’ to rework and challenge the ideas of Marc Prensky and his ‘Digital Natives’ – and here’s a bit from a journal article in 2011:

IV. Visitors and Residents

IV.1. Visitors

We propose that Visitors understand the Web as akin to an untidy garden tool shed. They have defined a goal or task and go into the shed to select an appropriate tool which they use to attain their goal. Task over, the tool is returned to the shed. It may not have been perfect for the task, but they are happy to make do so long as some progress is made. This is important, since Visitors need to see some concrete benefit resulting from their use of the platform. Significantly, Visitors are unlikely to have any form of persistent profile online which projects their identity into the digital space. They are anonymous, their activity invisible to all but the databases running the Web sites they use. Individuals who most closely fit the Visitor approach give a number of reasons for not wanting a ‘digital identity’ which would persist in some form even when they were not online. Issues of privacy and fear of identity theft are paramount [9] but there is also a sense that social networking activities are banal and egotistical. Implicit in this is the idea that if you have a ‘real’ social life and network of friends then you wouldn’t choose to socialise online in a visible manner. It is this visibility, or the ‘broadcast’ nature of the visibility, which is key; Visitors are not averse to using e–mail or Skype to maintain relationships but they are wary of creating a Facebook profile.

Visitors then see the Web as primarily a set of tools which deliver or manipulate content (this can include the content of a conversation because, as mentioned, they are happy to accept the Web as a useful conduit for interpersonal communication). This content is often distanced as far as possible from personal opinion (unless a competent authority is in evidence or a pre–existing off–line relationship). In effect, the ‘non–referenced’ or non–expert opinion and notions such as the wisdom of the crowd are avoided. Ultimately to Visitors the Web is simply one of many tools they can use to achieve certain goals; it is categorised alongside the telephone, books, pen and paper and off–line software. It is not a ‘place’ to think or to develop ideas and to put it crudely, and at its most extreme, Visitors do their thinking off–line. So Visitors are users, not members, of the Web and place little value in belonging online.

IV.2. Residents

Residents, on the other hand, see the Web as a place, perhaps like a park or a building in which there are clusters of friends and colleagues whom they can approach and with whom they can share information about their life and work. A proportion of their lives is actually lived out online where the distinction between online and off–line is increasingly blurred. Residents are happy to go online simply to spend time with others and they are likely to consider that they ‘belong’ to a community which is located in the virtual. They have a profile in social networking platforms such as Facebook or Twitter and are comfortable expressing their persona in these online spaces. To Residents, the Web is a place to express opinions, a place in which relationships can be formed and extended. While they use ‘tools’ such as online banking and shopping systems they also use the Web to maintain and develop a digital identity. Since they also undertake many of the activities that Visitors do, their residency is an additional layer of interaction and activity. When Residents log off, an aspect of their persona remains. This could be in many forms ranging from status updates to social networking platforms, to artefacts in media sharing sites or opinions expressed in blog posts or blog comments.

Residents see the Web primarily as a network of individuals or clusters of individuals who in turn generate content. Value online is assessed in terms of relationships as well as knowledge. Residents do not make a clear distinction between concepts of content and of persona. A blog post is as much an expression of identity as it is a discussion of particular ideas. The fact that Wikipedia has been authored collectively is not a concern, what is important is how relevant the information they find is to their particular needs.

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