Topic 1: Digital Visitors and Residents

The concept of digital “natives” and “immigrants” was coined by Marc Prensky (2001) to criticise the American education system as being outdated and had failed to understand the needs of students in the modern, digital age. Prensky referred to children and young individuals who were born and raised within a technologically rich environment as “digital natives”, who are socialised to process and utilise technology efficiently from a young age.

Equally Prensky describes individuals who were born before the creation of digital technologies such as the World Wide Web and mobile smartphones as “digital immigrants” who must adjust to utilising digital technologies to successfully thrive in an increasingly digitally pervasive world whereby every aspect of our lives has been touched by the “digital” in one way or another.

Although Prenskys typology goes to some length to argue the existence of the digital divide between natives and immigrants, it does not factor in how different users interact with and benefit from “the digital” (Harris, 2010).

Fig 1.

Fig 1.

Therefore researchers have sought to challenge this model due to its limited scope and categorising users of digital technologies between this dichotomy based purely around age. The digital visitor and resident model (White and Cornu, 2011) takes this into account and instead has created a typology of “visitors” and “residents” whereby every user is placed upon a goal-orientated/social-orientated scale.

The term “digital visitor” is used to characterise a Web user who has a specific end goal they wish to achieve and utilise various online tools to achieve this. On the other end of the scale a digital resident will use the World Wide Web for social purposes and to connect to other individuals online. White and Cornu see many users as switching between being a resident or visitor depending on their needs at the time.

Fig 2. Digital Residents vs Visitors

Based upon my personal, online experiences I agree with the visitor and residents model as I also sit between the two categories based upon my needs. For instance, if I wish to review some papers, have a formal discussion on a forum or send an email to my tutor then I would regard myself as a digital visitor. On the other hand I use the World Wide Web to post videos and photos onto social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to socialise and interact with my friends and family. But where would professional online profiles, such as LinkedIn fall into this continuum?

Harris, D. (2012). Digital Natives Revisited: Developing Digital Wisdom in the Modern University. E-Learning and Digital Media, 9(2), 173-182.

Prensky, Marc. “Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1.” On the horizon 9.5 (2001): 1-6. Available at

White, D. S., & Cornu, A. L. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9). Available at:

8 thoughts on “Topic 1: Digital Visitors and Residents

  1. Pretty well-defined! Love that image too. I think that’s actually a really interesting question you posed at the end; personally I think that it’s much more on the “digital resident” side of the continuum. When you think about the resident/visitor sides, the visitor would be hesitant to leave any sort of identity on the web.

    While LinkedIn is used in a much more professional manner, and is essentially something you use and visit occasionally, you are still uploading an identity, or one perception of your identity. If it was only used as a sort of job/career-hunting site, then it could be argued that it is a site for the digital visitors. However, due to the fact that a profile must be made and updated to really use it properly, it seems to me that by using it, you are conforming more to the digital resident side of the scale.

    What do you think it should be?

  2. Hi Ji,

    A great post summarising Pensky’s and White’s ideas around the different approaches to technology in society. I particularly like the way that you have linked these two ideas together.

    However, I have a couple of questions leading on from Andy’s post above. In my experience, LinkedIn has been very much a tool I have because “it’s a good idea”. However, more recently I’ve spent more time on it seeing what my old colleagues are up to/talking about. This is different to say Facebook as it is (almost) entirely professional. Therefore, I feel that over time I’m changing to become more of a resident in my use of that particular service. How do you approach LinkedIn Ji?

    Furthermore, in my reading on this topic, I feel that any kind of simplification of complex human actors and technology is ultimately unsatisfactory, including White’s residents. Do you feel these metaphors are still helpful at all?


  3. Hi Andy and Mark,

    I totally agree with what you both have to say, LinkedIn is technically regarded as a social networking site for professionals but it does include a job search feature where one can apply to various opportunities automatically as long as their profile is complete. However you can also view profiles belonging to other users , be it a friend or a work colleague as well as having the ability to send and receive messages in either a social or professional context.

    Therefore I believe it is how the user perceives a social networking site and their interactions rather than the platform itself which dictates whether they are a digital visitor or resident. For instance twitter can be used to to social and post messages to our followers but in the ‘Living and Working on the Web’ module we use it to discuss academic literature and a platform to share our blogs based around a particular subject. Consequently it is the negotiation of our interactions which decides whether we are visitors or residents on the World Wide Web.


    • Hi Ji,

      Interesting that you bring up LinkedIn as a tool to search for jobs. Does that mean people are likely to simply use it to find an opportunity, but through the community and ‘space’ of LinkedIn? If one knew that recruiters were looking for someone who had an active presence on LinkedIn, even a visitor might be tempted to act as a resident as it was part of the goal they wanted to achieve with that tool. In that case, it would be hard to detect at all if someone was a ‘real’ resident or merely a ‘visitor resident’ who is staying only as far as a particular task.

      This is picked up in your ‘negotiation’ idea brought out in your Twitter example. Which again was enlightening to this whole issue. How do you use Twitter outside of this module?

      Thanks again,

      • I would say that I have personally been more involved in finding a suitable career through professional social networking sites as it does not require me to fill in my personal details every time I wish to apply for a position as my profile is my CV in this case. Therefore a user may use LinkedIn once to suit their needs but can update their profile throughout their career as they essentially have a ready made CV if they wish to use again in the future.

        Up until recently I personally haven’t been an active twitter user since 2013 but I would say I was a visitor however there have been a few instances where I would have regarded myself as a resident. For instance a few years ago I was having connectivity issues with my internet and sought to contact the ISP over the phone but there was a long queue, so instead I sent them a tweet explaining this issue and they had replied to me within minutes, resolving my problem with excellent customer service.

        Would you see this as an increasing trend especially with high status individuals such as politicians and activist spreading their policies as well as companies getting free publicity?


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