Digital Immigrant

Dec 25,2013

Marc Prensky coined the terms digital native to refer to children born during or after the 2000s, who grew up in a digital world and for whom the use of electronic devices of all sorts come naturally, and digital immigrant, which refers to the rest of us. Giving into peer pressure, I've been persuaded to join the unwashed masses in possession of an iPhone. I'm still not sure why I need it.

Not long ago I accidentally dropped my plain-old telephone into water, retreived it and used it for a while, but it died in due time. The shop, whose records are better than my memory, informed me that it had been less than half a year since I'd done the same stupid thing, and so the repair bill would be four times the usual rate if I needed it fixed right away, and none to cheap if I waited for the full six months to elapse. Feeling vulnerable, I discussed the merits and demerits with my wife, who already has been enjoying her iPhone for quite some time, and decided to--as several of my friends put it-- 'Join the 21st century'.

It's been less than a week, and I've figured out how to send basic text messages (though I still can't get the pictographs to come up, nor certain characters), store contact information to my records (apparently all the data has been wiped out, but most of it was people I never talk to anyway), and check the weather. I can also toggle to a screen that shows the time of day in Los Angeles and Indianapolis, so I know when to call my brother or father, which I'll admit is pretty useful.

Aside from that, though, I'm not entirely plugged in. It has an Internet browser, but I'm not really interested in looking at web pages through a tiny screen. I always wondered why mobile telephones were more popular than computers in Japan while in the US it has historically been quite the opposite.

At any rate, the implications of the native vs immigrant dichotomy are somewhat frightening. Wikipedia describes the younger and older generations as 'speaking a different language' and approaching human relationships in a very different manner. Reading through this made me recall a depressing (to me) anime I saw in college called Lain: Serial Experiements. To me, the whole thing seemed a poignant picture of the isolation and alienation of an age when people communicate more with machines than with each other. I'm not entirely sure what the creator had in mind, but Anime Jump! carries an interview in which he seems to be insinuating that the problems of modern Japan are the result of an adoption of 'American values', echoing the deplorably popular belief that all of Japan's socioeconomic problems are America's fault (just as all its environmental problems are China's and Korea's) and expressing disappointment that American audiences seemed to 'understand' the film instead of clashing with Japanese audiences about it. (One would hope, or at least I would, that audience reactions broadened his perspective and helped him realise there are common threads through all of humanity, but the interview gives no indication that this has been the case.)

And so we march toward 2014 and all its unpredictable oddities. My hope for the digital world is that we can evade economic collapse or a third world war for another year, and generally get by for a bit longer without too much of the kind of arrogant misperception in the likes of the above, because even that all too often eventually snowballs into armed conflict.

Seasons Greetings. What a long, strange trip it's been.

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