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Digital immigrant August 4, 2008

Posted by Paul Rees in german.
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This post is going to stray a little from my usual theme of learning German, although it is related to that activity.

I have been chatting online with a young, friendly German man Timo Heuer. He is a self-described digital native and he has called me a “digital immigrant”. I had not heard the term digital immigrant before, however it does appear to have some currency.

While chatting to Timo I started to consider what it would be like to have grown up in a time where personal computers and the Internet had always existed. I then recalled my father telling me as a child about the days before television. This was unimaginable to me. Television was such an important and integral part of my childhood. I thought that living in time without it must have been an unbearable hardship.

Then I started to think about how my life had changed for the better since I have acquired technology. Today, for example, I can take a picture with my iPhone and within seconds it is on the Internet available for anyone in the world to view and comment on. Before technology I would have had to wait, sometimes days, for that photo to be processed at the lab. If I wanted to share it with anyone I would have needed to go back to the lab and have the photo reprinted. Then I would need to write a letter, include the photo and post it. When the letter was received the recipient would then need to write a letter and post it to comment on my photo. If the recipient was overseas, this process would have taken about a month from the day the photo was taken until I received the comment.

Imagine what the time consuming and labour intensive process I have described above must seem like to a digital native (digital natives feel free to comment).

Technology has also removed the sense of isolation I used to feel from the rest of the world (remember Australia is about a 24+ hour flight from Europe). I recall as a teenager and young adult reading magazines from the UK. It all seems so far away and remote. What was happening in the UK was certainly something that I could watch from afar, but never actually participate in. In the old days even the cost of international phone calls was prohibitive.

Today I feel quite connected. Obviously there is the instantaneous flow of information via the web, but for me it is more personal than that. Now I can communicate one-on-one quickly and cheaply with individual people anywhere.

For me, technology has enhanced the experience of learning German. I now have access to all manner of learning materials. More importantly I now can meet German native speakers online. This enables me to practice with a wide variety of people. It also has the unexpected bonus of the opportunity to make real, quality friendships with those people. Through friendships I have learned more about the German culture than I had anticipated.

So yes, I guess I am a digital immigrant… and I am not going back to the old country.