Understanding Being a Digital Age Immigrant

When I was sitting in our GTA workshop class the week before actual classes started, I was introduced to a term which I had never heard before. This moniker was “digital age immigrant.” You see, that explains what I feel that I am right now. I grew up in an age when there were no computers in classrooms, we were not allowed to have calculators in class, and people didn’t all have smart phones. This has turned almost a complete 180 degrees now, as students mostly have laptops in college, they used computers since elementary school, and almost everyone has at least a cell phone, if not some sort of smart phone. Young people now are considered to have been born in the digital age and since I am a student during this time, I am considered a digital “immigrant.” This kind of sums it up for me, as I often feel like I am behind the 8 ball when I am in class with these younger students. I am at a loss on the newest and best technology, and couldn’t tell you how to hardly turn on some of these smart phones, let alone operate one of these new I-pads.

I thought at first that this was going to be a tough assignment (only because it is something that I am completely unfamiliar with,) on using digital sources to record history. However, reading the “digital born” articles this week gave me new insight into the possibilities of how the use internet to help get the subject of history out there on the “cutting edge” of technology. While reading the article on the ship’s logs and being able to actually see the ship’s voyages and routes (which certainly outlined the continents,) I was pretty amazed and I did not have to try and “visualize” what the author was trying to say, I could actually see what was meant in the way it was posted online. In this article, I was most impressed by the way the information was shared, and as the author stated right from the get go: “the differences mean that we need to reinvent, not reaffirm, the way that historians do history. This leads me in a very different direction form my previous train of thinking. The way that new, more recent historians are writing about history does not mean that they are not good historians, they are just trying to write about history in such a way that it will benefit the most people in a more accepted way.

The drawback that I was envisioning, is one that Leslie Madsen-Brooks discusses in her article “I nevertheless am a historian”: Digital Historical Practice and Malpractice around Black Confederate Soldiers. This shows where anyone can post something online, without any shred of proof or fact based research. This can be very misleading to the inexperienced researcher. My fear was conveyed in class, but after our discussion and after thinking on it a while, I have come to realize that there are also countless sites out there that provide very valuable research right at the tip of our fingers. This fact was made apparent when we looked up MLK, and Dr. Nelson talked about the various sites we found on Dr. Martin Luther King. This was very educational to me, and I found myself changing my mind and leaning more towards a more open minded approach to the use of the internet when doing research, which I previously had seen as an unfortunate direction in which modern historians were heading.

I am a more traditional learner and need the books to read, have my hands on, write my notes in the margins, highlight, or underline information if necessary, and actual books allow me to do that. However, I can see the definite advantages of having all the information anyone could ever want right at the tip of our fingers. This could also possibly be the downfall of some researchers and newer historians because, like I mentioned before, anybody can post something online, male a webpage, list information, etc. and in doing so, if it is not correct information, it can be very detrimental to more traditional; researchers and historians.

One last thing that I have a concern, if not a fear about is that everything is electronically stored on the internet. This can be very problematic if for whatever reason the internet ever goes away, either through government control of the flow of information, (from what I understand, or read on the internet somewhere…haha) people in China have limited access to information, or through Cyber terrorism. This is a very real threat and if someone can hack into the internet and destroy files, information, etc., it could be a severe setback as well as a major stumbling block for future historians. One last thing I worry about is that people have become too reliant on the internet for their daily lives. Again, I ask what would we do if the internet would suddenly become non-existent?

6 thoughts on “Understanding Being a Digital Age Immigrant”

  1. Tiny,

    I have to say, I completely agree with you in your fear of the Internet one day “going away.” Unfortunately, with the Internet being so incredibly accessible, this means that cyber criminals have easy access to a plethora of information, even what some may consider to be mundane, like research for our thesis or other papers. Certainly, it would be simple then, for such information to also be easily destroyed. And despite the fact that we can back up all of our files until the cows come home, it still leaves me with an uneasy feeling. Call me old-fashioned but there is still something about the Internet that I just do not trust. I suppose I will have to move past this fear and mistrust if I want to continue living, working, and prospering in this digital world we now inhabit but for now I will stick to my books and my pens and paper to keep me happy.

    1. I am so “old” ….fashioned anyway, that I find myself always trying to figure out how to keep up with the latest technology anyway. This is something that I firmly believe that if we are to become more digital savvy, then we need to stay ahead of the game in learning about, posting/researching/entering into the “conversation” in this digital age.

  2. Hi Tiny,

    You said, “I am a more traditional learner and need the books to read, have my hands on, write my notes in the margins, highlight, or underline information if necessary, and actual books allow me to do that.”

    I am like this, too. I remember things much more effectively if I actually take notes by hand, as opposed to typing, and I mark up all of my books. I don’t think that type of learning is going away, even if more people are reading ebooks. I think the important thing is for people like us to adapt and learn how to do things the digital way, too, because if we can’t, then we won’t be able to keep up with relevant technologies, and the scholarship we do will not be able to reach a wide audience. But that doesn’t mean we have to give up the pen-and-paper way.


    1. Hey Claire, I don’t necessarily think that type of learning is going away, I just personally find it more difficult to read and make notes/mark up articles and research in this digital age. I feel like I have to have a hard copy of the information in my hands to be able to really grasp the knowledge, as it feels like, without having that hard copy to “use,” the knowledge is somehow fleeting. One thing that I always have a fear of is that IF the internet ever goes away, then that information is lost.

  3. Tiny,

    I have had some similar experiences since returning to school a few years ago. When I first went to college computers were in labs and you did not use one in class, but we did use the to research papers and find information. I used to think I would never want to read in a purely digital format, but recently I started using an e-reader for reading. I was given a Kindle as a gift and quickly found I enjoyed reading on the device. There are advantages and disadvantages of any information medium. One of the issues information specialists wrestle with is the preservation of digital and born-digital information in the ever changing field of technology. Preservation of these resources is the aim. You should also take comfort in the fact that in most collections only a small percentage of material is available solely in a digital format, but this percentage grows every year. As far as your concern about free information flow, you should read and keep up with Net Neutrality. Here is a link to the FCC website to get you started if you are interested: http://www.fcc.gov/openinternet Thanks for the post!

  4. Hi, Tiny,

    Your post reminds me that when I was trained for GRE test, an instructor told us “you guys need to train yourselves to read articles on computer, because you might not be raised in digital age. And there will be no tools for you to search. But don’t worry. Your ability to understand things will not disappear even you read on screen.” I did get trouble when I trained myself. I didn’t only take more time to read articles on screen, but also needed to get used to understand things without search engine and automatic encyclopedia. So, yes. I think your concern is right and that’s the reason why I need to get additional training.

    There are lots of researchers studying whether cognition ability of children changes in digital age, and as I know, there is no conclusion yet. For most people including me, it is rather a practical question such as “do I need to take more training for tests without Internet connection?“ than a scientific question like “does people’s learning ability totally different from before, because of Internet?” Same with people in China. There are commercial VPNs for rent, because sometimes it requires to take a VPN to link foreign websites. If people do need connection, they will rent. There are also several kinds of software to overcome the Golden Shield, the great wall to filter information. They are using more technologies to keep lives connected, like a spiral of technology. This is because they just cannot give up Internet, (So am I, maybe) just like people cannot give up electronic power and water supply.

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