Sunday, 15 February 2009

Terms: Digital Immigrants/Natives, Digitally Entrenched and now Digital Wisdon

Terms can be useful since a term allows a new concept to be labelled.
Marc Prensky coined the terms "digital immigrant" and "digital native" in 2001. They were useful terms to highlight the possible differences that could occur between those that were learning the technology in adulthood and those that were learning this as they grew up. It implied, however, that digital immigrants would continue to speak with an accent (and be less digitally able) unless they took serious steps to learn the new digital language.
There seemed to be an implication that such people would never lose their accents.
As useful as it was then, the terms were not as good for describing the situation now.

I used the term "digitally entrenched" (although subsequently qualified this) in an earlier post.:
But there is another layer to this.
Probably occurring more often in the immigrant than the native, there is a "
just enough knowledge and no more" approach as well. There are those who have become entrenched in some Word, some spreadsheets, an on-board mail client, Skype and the ever present powerpoint, and that is it. There is not the wish to move further than this.
"Good enough for what I want to do", they might say.
How common is the entrenched digital user? What might move them on to consider other digital computer and collaborative tools?

The digitally entrenched concept may allow us to describe a situation in education.

Marc Prensky has published a new paper (H. Sapiens Digital: From Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom ). Here he uses the term "digital wisdom" to describe the situation where use of technology will make us not just smarter but truly wiser:

"Digital wisdom is a twofold concept, referring both to wisdom arising from the use of digital technology to access cognitive power beyond our innate capacity and to wisdom in the prudent use of technology to enhance our capabilities. Because of technology, wisdom seekers in the future will benefit from unprecedented, instant access to ongoing worldwide discussions, all of recorded history, everything ever written, massive libraries of case studies and collected data, and highly realistic simulated experiences equivalent to years or even centuries of actual experience. How and how much they make use of these resources, how they filter through them to find what they need, and how technology aids them will certainly play an important role in determining the wisdom of their decisions and judgments. Technology alone will not replace intuition, good judgment, problem-solving abilities, and a clear moral compass. But in an unimaginably complex future, the digitally unenhanced person, however wise, will not be able to access the tools of wisdom that will be available to even the least wise digitally enhanced human."

Do these ideas go beyond those of the term "techno-literate or digital literacy"? I think so.
Literacy implies the use of tools for communication and there is a sufficiency about it - the idea that you become literate to some level.
Digital wisdom is somewhat upwards open ended, implying a whole range of technological skills and tools, so as to access cognitive power beyond our innate capacity, as well as in the prudent use of technology to enhance capabilities.
I had to read the definition very carefully before understanding it. Prensky points out that digital technology enhances our cognitive power already - by storing for us a huge amount of information which we can access later. We have become reliant on this. 

Prensky explains digital wisdom  by listing the ways that our unenhanced wisdom lets us down:

"As unenhanced humans, we are limited in our perceptions and constrained by the processing power and functioning of the human brain. As a result, we tend to go astray in our thinking in ways that limit our wisdom; for example:
  • We make decisions based on only a portion of the available data.
  • We make assumptions, often inaccurate, about the thoughts or intentions of others.
  • We depend on educated guessing and verification (the traditional scientific method) to find new answers.
  • We are limited in our ability to predict the future and construct what-if scenarios.
  • We cannot deal well with complexity beyond a certain point.
  • We cannot see, hear, touch, feel, or smell beyond the range of our senses.
  • We find it difficult to hold multiple perspectives simultaneously.
  • We have difficulty separating emotional responses from rational conclusions.
  • We forget."
I quote Prensky's conclusion:
"Within the lifetimes of our children, more powerful digital mental enhancements—the embedded chips and brain manipulations of science fiction—will become a reality just as gene manipulation, long considered a far-off dream, is with us now. Just as we have begun to confront the ethical, moral, and scientific challenges presented by genetic medicine, we will have to confront the issue of digital wisdom sooner or later, and we will be better off doing it sooner. Many of these enhancements will bring ethical dilemmas, but the digitally wise will distinguish between true ethical issues (Is the enhancement safe? Is it available equally to all?) and mere preferences and prejudices.
Nobody suggests that people should stop using and improving their unaided minds, but I am opposed to those who claim the unenhanced mind and unaided thinking are somehow superior to the enhanced mind. To claim this is to deny all of human progress, from the advent of writing to the printing press to the Internet. Thinking and wisdom have become, in our age, a symbiosis of the human brain and its digital enhancements.
I do not think technology is wise in itself (although some day it may be) or that human thinking is no longer necessary or important. It is through the interaction of the human mind and digital technology that the digitally wise person is coming to be. I believe it is time for the emerging digitally wise among us, youth and adults alike, to embrace digital enhancement and to encourage others to do so. With our eyes wide open to enhancement's potential harm as well as its benefits, let us bring our colleagues, students, teachers, parents, and peers to the digital wisdom of the twenty-first century."

Note: This article was originally published in Innovate ( as: Prensky, M. 2009. H. sapiens digital: From digital immigrants and digital natives to digital wisdom. Innovate 5 (3). (accessed February 9, 2009). 
The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher, The Fischler School of Education and Human Services atNova Southeastern University.

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