Digital “visitors” and digital “residents” – who are they?

When looking to understand user engagement with technology, Prensky (2001) coined the term digital “native” – a young person who has been immersed in technology since birth. Here, activities on the web are done almost without thinking, in the same way one may respond in an oral conversation owing to the way language is learnt as a child.  Contrastingly, a digital “Immigrant” is someone who has adapted to using the web in later life. The way they use the web resembles someone attempting to speak a second language.

In this work, there is a suggestion that natives (younger people) are almost superior. Whilst this may be true in some contexts– it is not definitive. With their work on the digital divide, van Dijk and van Deursen (2011) analysed the technical skills of people of different ages. They found that older people in fact performed better when utilising content related skills such as deciding which keywords to enter in to a search engine. Do Prensky’s ideas account for this?

An overview of digital “visitors” and “residents”

As a repsonse, White and Cornu (2011) have developed notions of digital “residents” and “visitors”. These are not based on age or technical ability but instead one’s ability to engage. In resident mode, one visualises the web as a space in which they can live a part of their life and be in the presence of others. These activities are linked to identity and focus on promoting a persona online, typically through social media. On the contrary, in visitor mode, one visualises the web as a set of tools that can be used to achieve a goal.

Example: If a “visitor” in a new city looks to find a restaurant to eat in, they may use the web to access TripAdvisor. Upon deciding they may disconnect from the web, leaving no trace. Contrastingly, a “resident” may look to “check-in” to the restaurant on Facebook or upload a photo to Instagram, leaving a presence on the web.


Image taken from


These ideas don’t look to categorise individuals and instead work together to form a “continuum” (as seen above). One may fluctuate between a “resident” and “visitor” depending on the context of their activity.

I tend to operate in “resident” mode more often but I’m not the perfect example. I’m always online but typically take a lurker’s approach. Where would you consider yourself on the continuum?



Prensky, Marc. “Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1.” On the horizon 9.5 (2001): 1-6. Available at

Van Deursen, A. J., Van Dijk, J. A. & Peters, O., 2011. Rethinking Internet skills: The contribution of gender, age, education, Internet experience, and hours online to medium-and content-related Internet skills. Poetics, 39(2), pp. 125-144. Available at:

White, D. S., & Cornu, A. L. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9). Available at:



8 thoughts on “Digital “visitors” and digital “residents” – who are they?

  1. I really like that journal article you found in Poetics, Callum. It’s interesting to see that although the content skills are greater in the older generations, the medium related skills has such a detrimental impact on the user’s overall performance when using the Internet. It would also seem that the digital immigrants also tend to suffer from self disparagement[1]. Maybe we will see a convergence in the devide as computing becomes inevitably more ubiquitous.

    Your self description as a lurker intrigues me. I interpret this to mean that you are a resident ‘ghost’, you have a social presence but do not contribute openly to the environment. I feel that you may have identified a type of digital interaction that is not properly represented by the White and Conru’s model. Could you elaborate on what you mean by this and how exactly it fits in the digital visitor/resident model?


    Jordan Flynn

    [1] Eastin, M.S., LaRose, R., 2000. Internet self-efficacy and the psychology of the digital divide. Journal of ComputerMediated Communication 6 (1)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jordan

      I think it’s important not to generalise when looking at issues such as this and the article I included proves why.

      I suppose I would consider myself a ‘ghost’ on my social media platforms. I certainly do post, but not regularly and when I do on Twitter for example, it’s usually via a retweet.

      When relating this to White & Cornu’s model, I definitely feel I lean more towards a resident as I’m still living a part of my life in cyberspace. I’m apprehensive to suggest I’m an obvious ‘Resident’ due to the lack of presence I present. However even when lurking, my presence can still be observed by my ISP.
      Furthermore, I suppose you could argue that having a social media profile but not contributing is in itself a mechanism to promote my identity.

      Thanks for your comment – it’s given me even more to think about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Callum,

    Thanks for an interesting discussion of the ideas around native/resident etc. I particularly like your comparison of the technical knowledge assumed of each one, which I feel is one of the most lacking areas of Prensky’s work. Simply because one does not choose to be resident on the Web doesn’t mean they don’t have the required technical skills. Indeed, in my experience of more technical people, I find often due to their technical knowledge they can be less likely to be resident on the Web (privacy issues etc.).

    You touch on your own position on the scale from visitor to resident. However, could you expand on that? Do you feel you’re are more of a visitor in the workplace for example? Or within different social groups?

    Finally, to what extent do you find the visitor/resident idea helpful as a paradigm for interacting with the Web? I think we can all agree it is better that Pensky’s natives. I would argue that any simplification of the complex interaction of actors both online and offline transcends any simple 1-dimensional scale.

    Thanks again,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mark,

      Thanks for the positive comments on my post.

      Yes, I’d say I’m definitely more of a visitor in the workplace. I’m currently writing my dissertation and I tend to access papers that I’ve previously read to find certain information before disconnecting – mainly to avoid distraction. Despite this, I’ve definitely had experiences of operating in resident mode in the workplace. Last year I enrolled on the ‘Power of social media’ MOOC which encouraged discussions through comments to help aid the learning process. So I think context is key.

      I find the visitor/resident model is particularly helpful, primarily due to the “continuum” proposed by White & Cornu. I agree that interaction with the web transcends any simple scale but the continuum certainly offers a less rigid distinction than Prensky’s work. I feel it moves away from the suggestion that we will all behave similarly online in the future.

      Thanks again


      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Callum,

        Thanks for your reply.

        Some interesting points around the use of the Web for academic work. However, I wonder if you would support an increased use of the resident style in academic work. Imagine, for instance, a social network for academics (say for example Would you find benefit from such a service in your in that work?

        Also, I agree with you on the use of these definitions and distinctions for describing people’s interaction on the Web. As with any model of the real world, there is necessarily some simplification involved.



  3. Hello Callum, first of all I would like to congratulate you on your first post. I have found while reading your passage that it was very easy for me to follow your thoughts as you had a very straightforward structure. The examples that you have included at the end have further enhanced this understanding. It made your points more clear.

    A suggestion, that I would have for your future posts would be to attempt to create your own graphics instead of copying images from websites. You could learn some new skill sets and it would further personalise your page. Another suggestion would be to carry out more research regarding your topic choice to make your posts more credible.

    I really enjoyed how you engaged your readers with a question towards the end of your post and when you explained your own web user experience.

    Keep up the good work.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sharon,
      Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you enjoyed reading the post.

      Creating my own graphics is definitely something I’ll be looking to do in the future. I’m particularly looking forward to learning how to use Powtoon and how I could incorporate it into my posts. I too think the post could have benefited from some further research material.

      Thanks again for your feedback.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s