Marc coined the terms “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants” in an essay in 2001, bringing together under this umbrella concepts that had been floating around the idea world in various guises. (See this updated 2006 blog post by Marc on the origins of the terms.)
The terms “Digital Natives” and “Digital Immigrants” have since circled the globe, being used by Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch among millions of others. Books have been published by others on the subject (e.g. “Deconstructing Digital Natives”) and Harvard Univerity initiated a “Digital Natives Project”.
The terms also brought their share of controversy, which Marc found surprising— given that this was, for him, only a metaphor to help people understand why and how things in their world were changing. Marc believes that much of the controversy was due to a mis-interpretation of the term Digital Native by some people to mean that “everyone born after a certain date knows everything about technology.” That, of course, is patently false.
Today Marc has largely moved on from using this metaphor, and now focuses on all people finding “Digital Wisdom” together. For those who care, Marc’s current view of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants is this:
The Digital Natives / Digital Immigrants metaphor is NOT about what people know, or can do, with technology. Everyone has to learn in one way or another. It’s more about culture and attitudes.
Digital Immigrants lived in two cultures: the pre-digital and the digital. Digital Natives have known only the digital culture. A great many of the Digital Immigrants’ deeply-felt attitudes and preferences were formed in, and reflect, the pre-digital culture and age.
The Digital Natives / Digital Immigrants metaphor is basically a shorthand way of expressing that many of the attitudes formed by those who grew up in the old, pre-digital culture clash with those of the Natives, whose attitudes were formed in the new, digital culture — this is independent of what each may “know” about how digital technology works.
Problems too often stem from people making judgments that reflect their own formative cultures, and thinking of those judgments as culture-independent or absolute. Immigrants have to watch out for thinking the way they learned to do things is still the best way. Natives need to realize that they still have to learn many things about technology — and life. That is why it is important that we all learn to work together, with mutual respect, to find Digital Wisdom.
(See also Controversy)