Digital “visitors” and “residents”…

In his work Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants from On the horizon (2001), US technologist Marc Prensky, first coined the term “digital native” to describe the young generation born after 1980, who were confident in using ‘all the…toys and tools of the digital age’ (Prensky, 2001,p.1), such as the internet and video games. In contrast to the Y and Z generations who were so at ease with these new technologies, Prensky suggested that previous generations occupied the position of “Digital Immigrants”, who were ‘forced to adapt to a world of digital media after (many) years of leading “pre-digital” lifestyles’ (Selwyn, 2009, p.369).

Initially, Prensky’s theory was very popular however, as David White and Alison Le Cornu note,

‘Natives and Immigrants were hypothetical children of their time… as our understanding has developed, it is appropriate to re-evaluate what has previously been accepted'(White, Le Cornu, 2011)

and therefore challenge the notion that older web users and learners are handicapped due to their age, whilst younger web users are automatically privileged and more confident on the web thanks to their age. Many other critics such as Sue Bennet take issue with Prensky’s typology of Native and Immigrant and note that whilst many young people are

‘highly adept with technology and rely on it for a range of information gathering and communication activities…there also appears to be a significant proportion of young people who do not have the levels of access or technology skills predicted by proponents of the digital native idea’. (Bennet et al, 2008, p.777)

She then goes onto mention that variation can exist just as easily between the Digital Immigrant generation with some older people being just as tech-savvy and comfortable with new technology as their younger generation Y and Z counterparts.

The growing reflections and re-evaluations of Prensky’s theory has given rise to a new typology which is now popularly known as Digital Visitors and Digital Residents, which is seen by many to respond much better to the current situation.

So what exactly are Digital Visitors and Digital Residents in today’s world?

 Is the web a place to live or simply a collection of tools? 


Visitors are web users who see the internet as a simple tool to enable them to achieve certain goals. For instance, a Visitor would use the internet to search for a specific piece of information and then would be quite happy to log off after finding it, satisfied with the result. Visitors are anonymous users and ‘their activity [is] invisible to all but the databases running the Web sites they use’ (White, Le Cornru, 2011). Furthermore, Visitors do not have a persistent online profile – they might use Skype or the web to book holidays but they are not avid users of social media and might not have Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Visitors are ‘sceptical of services that offer them the ability to put their identity online and don’t feel the need to express themselves by participating in online culture in the same manner as a Resident’ (TALL blog). They are users of the web rather than members and use pre-made content rather than generate it like Residents.


In contrast to Visitors, Residents are individuals who actively live out a percentage of their life online and are frequent users of the internet and social media. They view the web as a social space like a coffee shop where they can interact with others and play out their social lives and it is crucial for their interaction with friends and their social circle. It is a place in which relations can be formed and extended and connections with like-minded individuals can easily be made.

As mentioned on TALL Blog, the ‘web supports the projection of their identity and facilitates relationships’, enabling them to construct their online identity and portray themselves in certain lights to others, something which is very important for Residents. Moreover, it also enables Residents to express their thoughts and opinions via social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. The internet is so important for Residents that ‘when [they] log off, an aspect of their persona remains.’ (White, Le Cornru, 2011) and a typical Resident would be frequently found uploading pictures to their Instagram page or tweeting.

Like Visitors, Residents use the web as a tool to complete specific actions like online banking and booking holidays, but they are much more actively engaged with the web and create and generate their own content.

However, although Residents and Visitors and their relationship with the web seem very different, the Visitor / Resident typology should be understood as a continuum and NOT a binary opposition. Our status as Resident or Visitor can fluctuate very easily depending on our current situations and why we are using the Web. For instance, at the moment I am very much a Resident of the web, through the active use of this blog and my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages (with the latter to enhance my employability) however, during the summer months I was an infrequent web user and used the Internet to search for specific information like train times as a typical Visitor would do. The typology of Visitor / Resident is not black and white, but offers a much more relevant set of criterion for web users than Prensky’s Digitial Natives and Digital Immigrants.


Selwyn, N. (2009) The digital native- myth and reality. Aslib Journal of Information Management, 61(4), [Online], Available at https://comminfo.rutgers.edu/~tefko/Courses/Zadar/Readings/Selwyn%20dig%20natives,%20Aslib%20Proceedings%202009.pdf [Accessed 08/10/2014]

White, D and Le Cornru A. (2011) Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement Vol 16 Available at http://firstmonday.org/article/view/3171/3049%20https://comminfo.rutgers.edu/~tefko/Courses/Zadar/Readings/Selwyn%20dig%20natives,%20Aslib%20Proceedings%202009.pdf [Accessed 08/10/2014] 

White, D. (2008) Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’, TALL blog, University of Oxford, Available at: http://tallblog.conted.ox.ac.uk/index.php/2008/07/23/not-natives-immigrants-but-visitors-residents/ [Accessed 08/10/2014]

Bennett,S et al. (2008). “The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence,” British Journal of Educational Technology, volume 39, number 5, pp. 775–786 in Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement.


8 thoughts on “Digital “visitors” and “residents”…

  1. Hi Lucy,

    Interesting blog post, I particularly liked your personal reflection at the end: where you referred to your use of the web as a visitor and a resident. I felt this made the blog personal, and showed your complete understanding of the theory discussed. I also found the layout of your blog post clear, and easy to read, which is always makes reading a blog post more enjoyable.

    I would like to ask you a question based on Whites extension to the theory around the idea of institutional and social presences on the web. This is the idea that though someone is a proficient user of the web in their social life, it does not mean that they are successful in their use of it institutionally. Do you agree with this extension? How do you think this is reflected in your own life experience of the web?



    • Hi Anna,

      Thanks for you comment, I equally enjoyed reading your blog post and am looking forward to those to come!

      You raise an interesting point concerning White and whether one can be a successful user of the web for both personal (social) and professional (institutional) means and this is an issue I have pondered myself in relation to setting up a Linkedin account and an about.me page. I agree with White that being an adept user of the web and having a successful social presence does not in anyway equate to success using the web for institutional purposes. To expand upon this point, users have to be much more careful and selective with the content they choose to share on institutional platforms such as Linkedin as their desired target audience is entirely different from those viewing their Facebook page. I personally bear this in mind with all content I share on my Linkedin and Twitter pages as I am keen to portray a positive image to prospective employers, however, my activity on Facebook is directed solely at friends and family. I consequently am in complete agreement with White and believe that in order to be successful on both a social and institutional level, one has to always keep in mind the target audience and the suitability of your activity.




  2. Hi Lucy,

    This was really interesting to read as I can see that you really researched the topic. I also like how you applied the digital resident and digital visitor idea to real life situations, such as the café analogy. It is intriguing that you believe that you can be both a digital resident and a visitor at the same time and that you can see this in yourself. I was wondering if you think you personally could ever be completely a digital resident, as in White and Le Cornu’s reading I noted that they used the analogy of the tool shed, adding that digital visitors would use a “tool” that wasn’t necessarily perfect for the job but as long as it did the job it would be fine. Perhaps if you were fully a digital resident you would know exactly how to efficiently use the internet for your needs?



    • Hi Sophie,

      Thanks for your comment, I equally enjoyed reading your blog post and am looking forward to future editions.

      This is a really interesting and thought-provoking question. I personally believe that I could never be a completely digital resident owing to the fact that whilst I use the internet and social media very frequently during University, there are periods of the year such as summer (like I mentioned in my post) where I am an infrequent user and leave my Facebook and Twitter accounts relatively untouched due to the fact that I am busy and travelling. This being said, it is a difficult question to answer as I am still a digital resident as I am leaving a presence behind me on the web even when my accounts are not very frequently used / updated. Therefore, I personally embody the idea of the continuum as I switch between the two modes but am verging much more towards being a Digital Resident.

      Regarding the idea of a digital resident knowing exactly which tools are best suited to using the internet, I feel that I am already in a position to know which tools to use to get the desired result. However, other people who are much further towards the visitor end of the continuum such as my grandparents would be much less certain. Hope this answers the question!




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