Living and Working on the Web: Tool vs Place?

Prensky (2001) came up with Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. Despite of being much-criticized, this idea quickly gained attention as it called for a major change in the quality and effectiveness of education. It was suggested that such changes are required as young people (known as digital natives) who have grown up with information and communication technology, possess different style and skills of learning compared to previous generations (digital immigrants) as a result of their completely different upbringing. Although some studies have provided support to this idea, one of the key claims, which stated that ‘a distinct generation of ‘digital natives’ exists, may be overgeneralising.

According to Bennet et al (2008), while there are some research evidences that indicate that a proportion of young people are highly adept with technology, it has been shown that a significant proportion of young people aren’t. Therefore, it is important to note that there may be as much variation within the digital native generation as between the generations and individual differences should not be ignored.

10 years later, White and Cornu (2011) offered the analogy of Visitors and Residents as alternatives to Digital Natives and Immigrants.


It was suggested that Visitors are individuals that tend to use the web as a ‘tool’, to attain a goal, like any other tool – when needed, the tools are brought out to do their job; when done, tools are returned to their original place.

These individuals tend to be invisible online; they are anonymous and they tend to not leave any footprints and digital identity that would persist when the tool is not in use. As a result, they don’t tend to engage much in social networking activities online. However, they don’t necessarily avoid using things like email and Skype as tools to maintain existing-relationships.


On the contrary, Residents are individuals that treat the online platform more like a ‘place’, where they actually live a proportion of their lives in.


They usually have a distinct digital identity as they consider themselves a part of the online communities and a part of their self-identity. They tend to have a persona online and they would actively share, express and exchange their feelings and opinions to maintain their identity. For instance, people would constantly share posts that show what they are doing, their new job or even new relationships on Facebook while others will express their views or opinions towards the posts. Furthermore, websites such as and allow individuals to do online shopping whilst many banks now provide online banking services. Residents often use the web in all aspects of life: professionally, for studies and for recreation.

Nevertheless, Visitors and Residents should not be viewed as a distinct dichotomy, but rather a continuum, with Visitors on one end and Residents on the other.

While ‘extreme’ visitors only use web for specific purposes, ‘extreme’ residents only use web for social interactions and building up their online identity.

Most of us today belong to the box in the middle. As Wenger (1998) suggests, ‘We are all members of multiple communities and have to navigate our roles and identities as we navigate the “nexus” of communities we belong to.’


Bennett, S., Maton, K. and Kervin, L. (2008) The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39: 775–786. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00793.x (Accessed on 15/10/16)

Golubeva, D. (2015) WhatsApp web client now works in Opera browser Retrieved from (Accessed on 15/10/16)

Prensky (2001) Digital Natives, Digital ImmigrantsOn the Horizon, MCB University Press, Volume 9 (5). Available from:,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf (Accessed on 15/10/16)

Teixeira, F. (2016) “What tool should I use?” has become one of the most frequent questions asked online. The Right Tool For The Job: Picking The Best Prototyping Software For Your Project. Retrieved from (Accessed on 15/10/16)

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

White, D .S. (2008) Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’, but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’ Available from:  (Accessed on 15/10/16)

White, D. S., & Cornu, A. L. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9). (Accessed on 15/10/16)