On Tuesday Gerri Sinclair, Bruno Cerboni and I did a talk in Telefonica's Distrito C in Madrid about the future of virtual worlds. Gerri has been with us for a couple of months as a visiting researcher to help us with our work in virtual worlds and Bruno is the CEO of Italian Virtual Parks, the company behind Moondus which is a high quality 3D virtual world engine that we use for our projects. Gerri's talk was very interesting and it was a very short summary of a long course on virtual worlds that she has been teaching in our R&D center in Barcelona. During her talk, she showed an slide categorizing how people of different ages relate to technology (picture of the slide below courtesy of Oriol Lloret that was in the audience and is the brain behind the Hybrid Worlds project that we are doing with Gerri and Bruno, more about this in the future) as follows:
- Older people are digital aliens, complete foreigners to technology,
- Baby boomers are digital immigrants, foreign to the technology world but adapting to it as they enter adulthood with certain difficulties
- Digital adaptives, born in the 70's, entered the technology world at an early stage (Gerri recalled that PacMan was born in 1972). For the record, I was born in 1971 and I was recently referred to as old by my girlfriend because my first computer was a Sinclair ZX81
- Digital natives, from the 80's, they have lived with technology all their lives, they live in hybrid worlds partly online party offline,
- Digital avatars, born in the 21st century, they live mostly in the online world and have lots of virtual relationships and communications
I do feel more like a digital native than adaptive even though by age group I belong to the former. I loved that slide and refer to it during my talk later. At lunch, I asked Gerri about it and she mentioned that the term digital immigrant and digital was coined byMarc Prenski in the context of education and that she had come up with the other ones. Here you have what I think is the original article from 2001 were Marc introduced the terms, I had a lot of fun reading it as I am surrounded by digital immigrants (many of my peers and people senior than me) that are fairly technology savvy but fit very well with the digital immigrant patterns described in the article: printing emails, bringing paper rather than a notebook to meetings, calling you after sending you an email, etc. After reading this I am more convinced than I was before that one of the reasons some companies have a hard time innovating on the Internet is because a lot of the people taking decisions about products and services are digital immigrants (or worst, digital aliens) and therefore they do not get some of the things that digital adaptives or digital natives like. This terminology is really cool as it helps not only to understand educational issues but also to explain differences in behavior when using digital services. The scary part is the new addition that Gerri has come up with, Digital Avatars, people that mainly have virtual relationships and communications. It makes me think that someone 20 years from now is going to be blogging (in which ever form they do it in the future) and saying something similar about digital natives..