Topic 1: Digital ‘Visitors’ and Digital ‘Residents’

Prensky’s (2001) ‘immigrant’ and ‘natives’ theory likened the use of technology to a language, where if you grew up with it you were ‘native’ and if you didn’t, you were labelled an ‘immigrant’ as the way you would interact with technology would mirror a second language. In contrast, White and Le Cornu’s (2011) ‘Visitors’ and ‘Residents’ concept does not make assumptions based on age or technical skill, but only an individual’s motivation to engage online. The theory sees ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’ as a continuum and not two hard edge, distinctive categories where different modes are employed depending on the individual context at the time (White 2014).

What is a ‘resident’?

  • An individual who lives a portion of their lives online with an online persona which ‘they regularly maintain’ (White and Le Cornu, 2014).
  • Individuals that engage in highly visible activity online and leave a social trace.
  • Individuals whose internet usage is used as a medium to support their relationships with friends or colleagues.

What is a ‘visitor’?

  • An individual that sees the internet as a collection of tools useful for getting a particular job done (White 2014).
  • Individuals that always have a focused need to use the web but don’t ‘reside’ there. Examples include paying bills or booking a holiday.
  • An individual that leaves behind no social trace of themselves online.

For further information, see David White’s Explanation of Visitors and Residents

Evaluating my own online activity

Upon reflection of my own online activity, I believe there is a correlation between my motivation to engage online and whether I am in a personal or an institutional context. When based around an institutional involvement such as searching for a piece of information for a University essay, I see myself as a ‘visitor’ as I leave no online trace and use a collection of online tools to acquire a desired piece of information.

In contrast, when I am online for personal use, I actively engage with others online through the use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter and therefore a social trace is left, suggesting I am a ‘resident’.

However, the majority of my online activity that would fall into the ‘resident’ end of the spectrum is within a ‘social walled-garden’ (Bob, R-S 2014). As a result, my online activity isn’t traceable to everyone which means that my current online presence is pushed slightly towards the visitor end of the spectrum. Perhaps White and Le Cornu may not have fully taken into account the role of internet privacy on an individuals category.


(Further information on the role of privacy on digital natives.)


White,D. S. and Cornu, A.L . (2011). First Monday, Volume 16, Number 5. Available: . Last accessed 14th Feb 2016.

Prensky, M. (2001). On The Horizon. Digital Natives. 9 (5), 1-2

Bob R-S. (2014). Mapping the Visitors and Residents. Available: /. Last accessed 14th Feb 2016.

White, D.S. (2011). Not Natives and Immigrants, but Visitors and Residents. Available: . Last accessed 14th Feb 2016.






13 thoughts on “Topic 1: Digital ‘Visitors’ and Digital ‘Residents’

  1. Hi Stuart,
    I agree with your notion that internet privacy is not taken into account; as kids we’ve always been cautioned not to give out any of our details online. We hear all the horror stories about children who have been “cat-fished” by predators and therefore maybe parental influences put a tight control on the content that the younger generation can view/interact with. Young adults are of course, also big targets of similar incidents. For example, my good friend used to be in a relationship with a singer who has become very famous over the past few years. She started receiving fan mail and weird Facebook messages from his fans who had written erotic fiction about her and her boyfriend. Even though her privacy settings on facebook were at the “highest level” these people were still able to find her!
    Do you think, perhaps, a lot of us are almost scared into accepting this “Digital Visitor” role?


    1. Hi Shriya,

      I definitely agree with your thought that many young people today are scared into accepting the digital visitor role. During school, my year group would have various assemblies on internet privacy and how employers could make hiring decisions based on what your social media profiles revealed about you. Whilst these talks highlighted a good point about internet privacy, I think opportunities are missed out by young people using this to their advantage and showing employers a positive view of themselves. Overall, I think that having high levels of privacy on your social media accounts has become a social norm which has moved many people more towards the ‘digital visitor’ side of the spectrum



  2. Hey Stuart! Great blog post!

    Really enjoyed reading this and seeing a contrast between you and I in terms of where we classify ourselves on the spectrum. I see that you believe to have classified your online activities slightly towards the visitor spectrum, where as I consider my self both a visitor and resident because what I choose to do and what I can do. However, if I look at Bob’s, Mapping the Visitors and Residents, personally I am definitely a resident as I fit it in to most of the upper spectrum, for example by having Soundcloud.

    Do you feel that, after finding yourself within this spectrum, people should re-evaluate their uses on the internet in order to classify themselves as a resident or visitor? Do you also think that one can be both a visitor or a resident?



    1. I like your comment Rofini. I think once can definitely be both.. do you think that future generations will be able to be residents or do you think the world is mostly made up of visitors?


      1. Thanks Vicky!

        That is a really hard question to answer because in general I think that it really depends on the intensification and development of the internet and technology. For one, the importance of the internet in terms of education has grown intensely over the years. Younger generations are constantly on the internet, whether they’re 12 or even sometimes 10. I can say this because I do know those younger than 10 who have email accounts and are constantly on youtube watching the ‘Youtube vloggers’. Seeing the engagement by these younger generations, I think that it will only continue and potentially cause future generations to be slightly more askew towards being classified as digital residents. However, everyone is naturally different in their own way, have different characteristics and opinions which make it hard to identify whether these generations will be able to be residents or visitors. There are some people that I know who either don’t have Facebook or have it but rarely use it. I think that the world, in the future, will be filled with mostly individuals who lie more into the digital resident end of the spectrum but there will still be people who are considered digital visitors.

        I would like to know what you think about this? Do you think the world will filled with more visitors or residents in the future? Do you think that the increased accessibility of the internet will direct the categorisation of people towards a digital resident? I never thought about the consequences of the future and whether it would be filled with more residents or visitors, so this is a really interesting discussion topic!



    2. Hi Rofini,

      Thanks for your comment! I believe that individuals, like myself, consciously change between being a ‘visitor’ and being a ‘resident’ depending on the situation that they are in. I believe that individuals, like myself, lean more towards being a ‘resident’ when they are in an educational or institutional setting and more towards a ‘visitor’ when they use the internet for personal and socializing purposes. Much like White and Le Cornu stated, the ‘visitor’ and ‘resident’ categories can be seen as a continuum and therefore individuals can slide between the two groups in different contexts.Therefore, in answer to your question, I believe that one can be both a resident and visitor.



  3. Your points are very well explained. It was encouraging to see how after more research you changed your initial views of the concept.
    I can note that your parents use of the web contrasts to that of my mum who uses both whatsapp and snapchat. I do agree that effective use of digital platforms is not related to age because of this.
    I am sure that younger generations that’s ourselves will grow up with a knowledge of computers but what’s to say they will be a resident as they may not be able to use the full benefits of the web and other resources around them that the web may not supply. It’s great to see how you’ve used digital means, to focus on causes close to your heart such as the recent junior doctors strikes. This strikes me as a way that more people will be forced into becoming residents, perhaps one day voting and polling will all be online and those not digitally literate will be missing out? I’d love to hear your thoughts?


    1. Oops, apologies here! I posted this comment to the wrong blog! It looks like I have a long way to go in terms of becoming a full time resident! I have however read your blog and do love the concept you mentioned of a “social walled garden”. This is very much what makes up a large part of my online activity. Although I do use a LinkedIn profile as well as this WordPress profile and am beginning to build these up to be more of an online and professional identity! I wonder if UOSM2008 will continue to make you follow this use of digital means or whether you will become resident in both social and professional ways? This blog you have started is certainly a stepping stone and I think it would be great to be well rounded on the web as more and more hiring share done through social platforms such as LinkedIn! Again apologies for the initial comment but I hope my smaller and more insightful thoughts I feel, makes up for it!


      1. Hi Holly,

        I definitely agree with your comment that I will lean more towards a ‘resident’ after completing this module. Leaving a social trace that I am happy and willing to show employers through avenues such as LinkedIn and WordPress, I believe that my institutional and professional use of the internet will move towards being a ‘resident’ much like my usage as a whole.



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