The Emerging Online Life of the Digital Native: What they do differently because of technology, and how they do itBy Marc PrenskyARTICLE 8

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Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants

Digital Natives
Today's students (K through college) are considered Digital Natives as they were the first generations to grow up during the arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology at the end of the 20th century. Digital Natives have been using and surrounded by tools of the digital age their whole lives, such as computers, videogames, mp3 players, cell phones, and video cameras.[2]

Digital Immigrants

Digital Immigrants are people who were born prior to the emergence of the digital world but have, at some later point in their lives, become fascinated by or adopted aspects of new technology. They learn to adapt to the digital environment (some better than others), but still revert back to aspects of their past, which is referred to as the "digital immigrant accent."[3]


Young people today are in the process of creating a different way of life for themselves using the rich online world and digital resources that surround them. As Prensky says in his article, the online life of a Digital Native has become “an entire strategy for how to live, survive and thrive in the 21st century.” There are a growing number of things that Digital Natives can now do online, which means that many traditional behaviors such as mailing letters, shopping, or gaming are now different from how they once were. (See Areas of Change)

In his article, Prensky describes many common daily activities and examines how Digital Natives have taught themselves how to do these activities in new ways. He notices that Immigrants and Natives tend to use the exact same technology (such as eBay or blogs) differently, which often causes dissonance and disconnect between the two groups.

However, the Digital Native generation is still rapidly developing and will undoubtedly continue to integrate new digital technology into its life as it comes.

What does this mean for the Immigrants? While some Digital Immigrants may be afraid of new technology or question its value, the Natives are never going to revert back to the old ways, so they will have to get used to the changes. Unfortunately, some Immigrants will be impeded by their pre-digital “accents” and never adopt some of the new Digital Native behaviors. However, parents and teachers should try to learn as much as possible about these new behaviors as our daily life involves interaction with Digital Natives.

Areas of Change

Digital Natives are creating their own way of doing things in a number of different areas, which are elaborated upon in this section.


Digital natives are communicating with friends, family, and people around the world through different technological mediums. They asynchronously use email to send messages which has a benefit of allowing them time to reflect on their writing before sending. On the opposite end, they syncronously text or enter chat rooms to receive instant messages and feedabck. However, constant texting and abbreviating have caused digital natives to abandoned traditional writing.

The greatest advantage of online communication for digital natives seems to be that there are participants who typically are not very social in person. Since lookism is not typical online as it is in the real-world, judgments of character or physical appearance is diminished and more digital native are freely communicating.


"Updating walls" or "tweeting" are not typical sentences you would hear even fives years ago, but it is very common now. Digital natives are expressing themselves on blogs and social networks to stay connected with friends, family, and acquaintances. Friends can respond to posts or simply read them to stay up-too-date. One of the important features of weblogs or social networks is that it serves as a tool for interconnection where links can be directly provided in blogs or posts and it takes users to other connected websites.

Buying and Selling

More and more people are doing online shopping because of convenience. During any time of the day, digital natives and jump on a computer and
search for items they want to buy. In addition, more digital natives are capitilizing on opportunities to sell goods online.


Digital natives like to share and pass along music, movies, and videos from one to another via the internet. No longer do people have to go purchase movies or dvd's, instead they can be shared with friends though a website or line and downloaded for free. Some place where this trend is visible is music download sites such as limewire, rhapsody, and While artists and pirating laws attempt to stop such illegal sharing of media, their efforts have not been successful.


Because digital natives are so proficients with technology and have regular access to it, they now create their own websites, movies, and other media. Not only are they playing computer games, video games, and watching movies, but instead they are utilizing software such as Adobe Flash to make their own movies, video game software to create their own video games, etc.


For the past several generation, people most often communicated and met face to face. However, with the advancement of technology and the internet, more and more people are meeting through and on the internet in chat rooms, online dating sites, or skype.

The things that children and teenagers collect has radically shifted recently. It is not very often that the youth today collects stamps, coins, or stuffed animals. The most common collection the youth today has is music. With the invention of the ipod, the greatest collections today are downloaded songs and videos.


Digital natives can now easily coordinate and join groups in the online world. Prensky shares a common example of having to work hard to join a game that exceeded the number of participants and comparing it to the online games such as Dark Age of Camelot, Star Wars Galaxies, and City of Heroes, where dozens if not hundreds can participate and carry out their specific roles.


With so many online retailers and websites, online natives found it difficult to know which sellers and companies were trustworthy. to remedy this issue, they invented online evaluation systems such as rating a seller or product on Amazon or blogging on


Games are evolving in complexity and duration. There has been a transition from the simple games (card, board, and word games) that Digital Immigrants used to complete within a couple hours to complex games games (deep computer and video games) that Digital Natives participate in for 30-100 hours. Games are more expansive and multiplayer options are available that connect people from different age and social groups. To a Digital Immigrant, these games appear to be single-player, though, because the player is at a gaming console individually and connects to other users online.


Digital Natives are reluctant to put in effort towards the things they are not motivated to learn. Digital Natives understand that when they actually want to learn about something they have the tools online to find rich information that surpasses the knowledge of their parents or teachers. As a result, to a larger and larger extent they ignore the things they are not motivated to learn, which includes schoolwork.


Searching is the second biggest use of the Internet. Digital Natives understand that they can use search engines, such as Google, to find information, products, people, phone numbers, definitions, online images, etc. Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants tend to differ in the topics they search and how they are able to filter through lots of information. As a result, Digital Immigrants use more filters to narrow their searches so they don't get overwhelmed. Digital Natives, on the other hand, like more raw information but need more practice in evaluating information from the domains they don't understand well (ie. school related topics).external image Google-search-home.png


Analysis has changed and Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants are becoming more open to volunteering their personal resources (ie. computer space and free processor cycles) and privacy, such as allowing external connections to their computers, to participate in large scale projects and data analysis.


Digital Natives use the Internet to share information as soon as the recieve it. Reporting has taken on many different forms, covers a variety of topics, and is done instantaneously through computers and cell phones. Digital Natives use blogs, free websites, and other tools to talk about topics that range from politics to entertainment.


Digital Natives are showing more programming capabilities even if they haven't studied it. Even at the most basic ability level, they are able to personalize their cell phones and modify online searches using "and" and "or." They are increasingly gaining proficiency in other graphical programming languages such as Flash players.


Socializing has shifted to the online forum and finding friends, maintaining social relationships, and even dating require a different skill set when done online. The style of socializing is changing and Digital Nat
ives' online contacts are as "real" to them as their face-to-face ones.



Kids are continually creating new ways of doing things to facilitate their lives. For instance, many digital natives have learned to type messages at reasonable speeds on their cell phones, even while their phones are in their pockets.

Growing Up

Traditionally, kids have grow up in physical meeting places such as the home or the school, but in today's world, kids are also growing up in the space we call "online." Just as in other cases, kids have to explore, transgress, and test the limits of the online world.


  1. ^
  2. ^
    Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants by Marc Prensky, p.1
  3. ^
    Ibid, p. 2