#UOSM2008 Topic 1: Digital Visitors & Residents

Explaining the concept of digital “Visitors” and “Residents” 

Digital literacy is becoming ever more important as our dependence on technology grows. The computer infrastructure is in place but it is necessary to be able to teach people how to harness it.

Prensky (2001) put forward the model of ‘Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants’.  The idea behind this model is that the youth of today (the K-12 generation) are ‘native speakers’ of the digital language having grown up with technologies. His so-called ‘Digital Immigrants’ are those who were not born into the digital world but have stumbled across it at some point in their lives. The model, in short, states that today’s youth think and process information fundamentally differently from their older and out-of-date predecessors. Given this, they are assumed to be proficient. Due to this, teachers (instructors, lecturers etc.) will struggle to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language of technology. I personally dislike this model as I feel it is overly simple and discriminatory stereotype, which last year even Prensky admitted is growing less relevant as more people (of all ages) gain access to the internet.

Thankfully, White, Lanclos & Connaway (2011) devised a more appropriate model, ‘Visitors and Residents’.  They, like myself, disagreed with Prensky’s distinction and, after studying their own students, found that the use of online services did not seem to follow a simple pattern based on skill level.  Instead, it seemed to depend on whether users saw the web as a ‘place to reside’ or as a tool to achieve an objective. This underlying motivation led them to outline two main categories, ‘Visitors and Residents’. Their model removes some of the stigma surrounding age, as they use a number of additional variables.

Visitors use the Internet as a tool as they are goal orientated; they use the tool and leave. Unlike ‘Residents’, they do not have a continued online presence, instead they login when the need arises. I, on the other hand, would be categorised as ‘Resident’, living partially on the Internet, using it in all aspects of my life, professionally, for study and for recreation. As a ‘Resident’, I am able to view any online activity as it happens through mobile apps such as Facebook or Instagram. I can check emails, Tweet, and update my blog all on the go. Through the Internet I can project a persona via social networking and blog posts. ‘Residents’, are competent in making the most of online services such as online banking and shopping.

These two distinctions, put forward by White, Lanclos & Connaway (2011), represent two ends of a spectrum. However, there will be those who fall inbetween. For the purpose of teaching and for tailoring content to suit target demographics, these two distinctions are not enough.  Horrigan (2007) identified a typology of Internet users by grouping users with similar online behavior into homogeneous groups. His approach has received considerable attention, especially from Internet research (independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, OFCOM (2008), and the Pew Internet Institute). It categorises users into ten distinct user types as seen below.

A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users

As we see the range of users widening it is going to be increasingly difficult to put labels on users. White, Lanclos & Connaway (2011) do well at providing a useful formulation to divide Internet users. However, it does not categorise users specifically enough to be effective. Horrigan’s (2007) typology is a far more effective way to categorise users, though, as we see the range of users widening, such topologies are going to have to be constantly adapted and re-thought.



Horrigan, J. B. (2007). A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users Findings. Pew/Internet & American Life.

White, D., Lanclos, D., & Connaway, L. S. (2011). Visitors and Residents: What Motivates Engagement with the Digital Information Environment? Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology48 (1), 1–7.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon. MCB University Press(5), 3.

OFCOM(2008). Social Networking. A quantitative and qualitative research report into attitudes, behaviours and use. Office of Communication, London.