Whenever we use the internet, we leave digital footprints based on the actions we take and the pages we visit. The concept of digital ‘residents’ or ‘visitors’ enables us to better understand the impact of those actions and how it contributes towards our overall online identity (or lack of).

This paradigm was introduced as a replacement for Prensky’s (2001) digital ‘natives’ and ‘immigrants’. The predecessor was heavily influenced by age, pigeonholing older users of the internet who had not been born surrounded by the technology as ‘immigrants’ – indicating that their fluency and skill with modern digital technologies was inferior to that of the younger generation – the digital ‘natives’.

Although a compelling point had been raised and the idea gained much momentum, the problem exists that this theory takes a generalised view that cements users into one of two categories which they are unable to move between, no matter how their skill set changes. Furthermore, it does not take into account important factors such as each individual’s access to digital technology regardless of their age, or the specific way in which they use the internet.

White and Cornu (2011), therefore decided to propose a replacement for this concept, taking into account the highlighted pitfalls, thus creating digital ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’. The new view provides an individual and flexible way to describe users of the internet. As the title of this blog suggests, it does not exist as simply two boxes that users can be placed into, but instead a continuum that can be navigated depending on the way in which one uses the internet.

In order to understand the concept better, I have created a diagram displaying the continuum (visitor-or-resident), using words, websites and programs to display where each user could place depending on their activity.

Personally, I use the internet most frequently for activities that would suggest I am a digital ‘resident’. I own active Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin accounts, often contributing towards my online identity by sharing pictures, posts and comments. Although my mother uses the internet primarily for Google searches or internet shopping and therefore would be categorised as a ‘visitor’, the allure of the theory is that if in time she decides to create an online identity and subsequently transitions to being a digital ‘resident’, she can rightly do so.

With 73% of 30 – 49 year old internet users now owning active social media accounts and contributing to the accumulation of information available online, I believe the ‘residents’ and ‘visitors’ theory provides these users with deserved recognition and the opportunity to move along the continuum based on their chosen actions, rather than predefined and at times irrelevant factors such as age.

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White, D. S., & Cornu, A. L. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16

White, D. (2008). TALL Blog | Blog Archive | Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’ online | Tallblog.conted.ox.ac.uk | Available at: http://tallblog.conted.ox.ac.uk/index.php/2008/07/23/not-natives-immigrants-but-visitors-residents/

Patterson, M. (2015). Social Media Demographics. Available at: http://sproutsocial.com/insights/new-social-media-demographics/#facebook. Last accessed 14/10/2016