Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What publishers should understand about "digital natives"

As mentioned in my previous post I want to take a closer look at important trends shaping publishing, now and in the future. Before turning to Nowism, a trend described only recently in the November briefing of Trendwatching.com, it is better to start off with an oldie: "digital natives" versus "digital immigrants".

These terms were first used by Marc Prensky in 2001 (!) to describe the radical and structural difference between his students  and the teachers. Prensky dubbed his students as "digital natives":  “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet. As a result of their continuous interaction with digital technology Prensky concluded that: "todays students think and process information fundamentally different from their predecessors:
"Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They prefer games to “serious” work".

What does that mean for the teachers being in the "Digital Immigrants" category? "As Digital Immigrants learn  to adapt to their environment, they always retain, to some degree, their "accent," that is, their foot in the past". This means the teachers will largely stick to their pre-digital-age programmes (ie. what worked for us, will work for them as well) creating a disconnect with their students.

Moving to publishing the parallels with Prensky's education environment are striking. "Digital natives" are all consumers below the age of 30 while the "Digital Immigrants" are the publisher's executive teams. Nowadays paper products no longer fit the prefered way in which digital natives consume information:
fast: real-time news updates
parallel: access to multiple apps at the same time
graphics: video over text
random access: hyperlinks
networked: social media
instant gratification: instant access to informatie (including mobile access)
frequent rewards: recognition for contribution.

The publisher's executive teams are trying to adapt to the changing environment by adding bits and pieces of the digital age to their offering. However they do so from a pre-digital-age background and perspective trying to put their past success in a new jacket. Murdoch's continued struggle to adapt his News Corp businesses to an internet dominated by Google exemplifies the struggle of digital immigrants to come to grips with the digital age. The question arises of course whether today's publishing CEO's are able to lead their companies into the future successfully or whether more digitally adapted or even digital native CEO's are needed....

Next time Nowism, any comments on above?


  1. wow, this analysis of the gap between teachers and students, native and immigrants largely explains the tragedy of the italian school AT PRESENT ;-|
    may I quote your post on tempoora.com ?

  2. Hi,
    Not sure whether you got my earlier response. PLease go ahead but remember to link to techTOinnovate. Good luck with tempoora.com!

  3. Tom,

    I appreciate and value your perspective: "...the struggle of digital immigrants to come to grips with the digital age."

    The longer teachers and executives "stick to their pre-digital-age programmes" and the greater the disconnect they create with their students and customers, the more wild and wonderful the revolution will ultimately be.


    Paul J Gardner
    Conductor of Magical Printing

    PS - My guess is that most immigrant CEO's won't get it - at least not in time to save their jobs or their companies.

  4. Very good point. I work in a educational publishing house and our target is precisely that: the 'digital natives'. We have to consider very well this gap between us and them.

  5. Hi Marco, could you explain how your company intends to bridge the gap? Thanks for sharing!