My Life As A Digital Immigrant
by Alex Walsh
Someone told me recently that I am a digital immigrant. Young people are digital natives.
This made total sense to me.
I’ve always felt like I’ve been playing catch-up with the latest technology. I eventually do catch up but then things change again and I fall behind. The changes were much easier to ignore before the internet.
I think my digital immigration started with video games. My first experience with anything digital was playing Pong after a soccor game in a Pizza Parlor in the early 1970s. Then it was Space Invaders and other games at the arcade and Atari at friend’s houses.
When I graduated from high school in 1985 my parents gave me a typewriter. In college I discovered the computer room, which they called a computer lab. I could type my papers there surrounded by other students. I stopped going because I had no idea what I was doing and the lab assistant got really frustrated with me.
A few years later I was in San Francisco where you could rent a room and live on minimum wage. I started performing at open mics and doing gigs. Record stores sold CDs. People I knew bought digital tape machines. They helped me make demo recordings. A roommate of mine worked at a software company and hogged the phone line to send messages to his friend in Germany on this thing called the Well.
I bought my first computer in 1999 and signed up for AOL. Ten years later I had an iphone, broadband, and wifi.
I always went to the next digital thing when it became unbearable to not do it. Does that make me a digital immigrant or a digital refuge?
The digital immigrant vs digital native idea came about in 2001. The argument made sense. It’s based on age and how old you were when you got online. Asking a young person today when they “got online” is the defining question because they’ve always been online. If you remember when you got online, you’re a digital immigrant.
I was talking to a singer/songwriter friend of mine, Francesca Lee, about how things have changed for her since social media started. She said her last CD release was in 2010 and she didn’t use social media very much then. With her latest CD she’s going to take a completely different approach. She’ll release each track of her album as a single online. It might take a year to get them all out. Why? Because with social media the idea is we’re in constant communication with our network of online friends and we need to always be posting something new.
This is a lot of pressure if you take the old school approach of perfecting everything before you release it. As a digital immigrant this is my natural tendency. If I want the outtakes I’ll buy the box set! But there is something freeing about the reality TV approach too. Just put everything online and try not to worry about it.
Technology is changing so fast I think we’re all going to be digital immigrants!