What can ‘Digital Foreigners’ teach us about technology?

by Priyanka Raha ~ Aug 16, 2018

child and grandparent
digital foreigner

I believe we are all familiar with the term ‘Digital Natives’ and ‘Digital Immigrants’. Made popular in 2001 by Marc Prensky, a renowned American writer and speaker on education, the scope of these terms have definitely evolved since then. Marc himself once mentioned that “The most important thing to realize is that this is a metaphor. It’s not a distinction or a brand, it’s extremely fluid.”

I am extending that fluidity of these definitions to define the generation that came before us, as digital foreigners. The wikipedia defines a digital native as a person that grows-up in the digital age rather than acquiring familiarity with digital systems as an adult. The latter is what defines a digital immigrant. That’s us. Digital foreigners are adults who know how to use a computer or own one but have not substantially used it in their daily life. They are our parents. This is a generation that survived without google, so please have utmost respect.

Both my parents own a smart phone and a laptop and can work their way around the systems, for the most part. Since we live in two different continents, Skype and WhatsApp are ways how we stay connected. But that has happened after a one-too-many phone calls of guided conversations on how-to-navigate a chat client.

This year my parents are spending the summer at my house, my kids are getting their much needed quality and quantity time with their grandparents. My kids are also getting royally spoiled but that’s a story for another day. For now, if I think about discussions just around technology between my kids and my parents, there are quite a few interesting conversations that I run into.

It goes without saying that our parents are the first ones who hold our hands and teach us about life. Our lessons on life come from them. But when it comes to technology most of the times the tables turn and we find ourselves providing tips to them, about managing the digital world. Even with the flow of information happening the other way, I can assure you there are so many things that we can learn from our digital foreigner parents about technology.

The joy of giving back

It seems like a lofty expression but if I can reiterate the fact about turning the tables as mentioned above, it is extremely rewarding to be able to help my parents figure out an app download or how to set up an online account. Seeing my mom figuring out Apple’s multi-touch or Facebook’s messaging is exciting. I have watched my parents read to my kids and at other times my kids explain the Minecraft world to them, and I have thought to myself, ‘there is that joy of give and take at play here’.

By teaching we learn

It is not a secret that the best way to grasp a concept is to explain it to someone else. The unfamiliarity of certain concepts around technology, in fact, leads to meaningful questions from our previous generation. And in the process of providing those answers we learn more. It is important to note that most of these questions come from an experience of having lived a full life and having understood what being social means without worrying about social media. Combing through the whys and hows leads to discovering the ways the world worked before, like not being able to play any song of your choice while on the go. I think this provides the next generation with a perspective that helps them appreciate, a little bit more, the world they live in.

A new type of quality time

Exploring the digital world together not only helps us learn more but it also opens up new avenues for connection. The other day I walked in from work and found my four-year old explaining the story of PJ Mask to my Mom and Dad. For those of you who do not know it is a kids’ show about three friends who fight bad guys at night, that explains the ‘PJ’ in the title. My goal is not to take away time from other fun activities that grandparents do with their grandchildren, but what if besides all the things that they always did, like playing ball or riding a bike, we have discovered new ways to bond and communicate.

So, next time your parents are baby-sitting, ask your kids to explain how a tablet works or better even to narrate the latest show. See what happens!