Confessions of a Digital Immigrant: Reflections on mainstream and new media

The Digital Native: Was there a life before the Internet, Dad?

In early August 2009, I talked to a captive audience of media owners, senior journalists and broadcasters in Colombo about the ‘digital tsunami’ now sweeping across the media world. (It has been reported and discussed in a number of blog posts on Aug 6, Aug 7, Aug 8 and Aug 31).

As I later heard, some in my audience had mistakenly believed that I was advocating everything going entirely online. Actually, I wasn’t. I like to think that both the physical and virtual media experiences enrich us in their own ways. Real world is never black and white; it’s always a mix or hybrid of multiple processes or influences.

So I’ve just revisited the topic. I adapted part of the talk, and included more personalised insights, and wrote an essay titled ‘Confessions of a Digital Immigrant‘, which has just been published on Groundviews, the path-breaking citizen journalism initiative.

It opens with these words:

“My daughter Dhara, 13, finds it incredible that I had never seen a working television until I had reached her current age — that’s when broadcast television was finally introduced in Sri Lanka, in April 1979. It is also totally inconceivable to her that my entire pre-teen media experience was limited to newspapers and a single, state-owned radio station.

“And she simply doesn’t believe me when I say — in all honesty and humility — that I was already 20 when I first used a personal computer, 29 when I bought my first mobile phone, and 30 when I finally got wired. In fact, my first home Internet connectivity — using a 33kbps dial-up modem — and our daughter arrived just a few weeks apart in mid 1996. I have never been able to decide which was more disruptive…

Groundviews: 1,000 posts and counting...“Dhara (photographed above, in mid 2007) is growing up taking completely for granted the digital media and tools of our time. My Christmas presents to her in the past three years have been a basic digital camera, an i-pod and a mobile phone, each of which she mastered with such dexterity and speed. It amazes me how she keeps up with her Facebook, chats with friends overseas on Skype and maintains various online accounts for images, designs and interactive games. Yet she is a very ordinary child, not a female Jimmy Neutron.

“Despite my own long and varied association with information and communication technologies (ICTs), I know I can never be the digital native that Dhara so effortlessly is. No matter how well I mimic the native ‘accent’ or how much I fit into the bewildering new world that I now find myself in, I shall forever be a digital immigrant.”

Read the full essay ‘Confessions of a Digital Immigrant’ on Groundviews…

3 Responses to “Confessions of a Digital Immigrant: Reflections on mainstream and new media”

  1. Doanld Gaminitillake Says:

    You and your daughter are English educated. How many fail in our O/L English. We have two mother tongues in Lanka, Sinhala and Tamil. Can these children use a computer in their mother tongue? Why don’t we give this opportunity to these children and see how they develop Lanka.

    There “LINK” language is not English but the two Local languages. Once they know each other they will explore the world in a language of their choice.

    Donald Gaminitiilake
    Let us change the standard

  2. Nalaka Gunawardene Says:

    I agree with you — but only up to a point. School-based learning of English (or the lack of it) is no longer a make-or-break deciding factor for Sri Lankan youth. They are using digital technologies and creating digital media even without English, and even in the absence of a standardised Sinhala or Tamil unicode. Not ideal, but then, we live in a vastly imperfect world and country…

    See, for example, my May 2009 profile of Sri Lankan school-leaver Chamara Pahalawattage.
    He is from the bottom of income pyramid, raised by a single parent and not privileged in anyway. But he uses a modern mobile phone for both business and leisure. It’s good if he can seamlessly use SMS and other functions in Sinhala, but the absence of perfect conditions hasn’t held him back…or any of the other millions of youth who are mastering digital tools and opportunities in all corners of Sri Lanka.

    • Doanld Gaminitillake Says:

      If you look trough the window how many people carry a mobile phone. Most of them. (75%) in the city
      If the functions can be seen in a language they are familiar how many will use them.
      All these leads to new job opportunities. More business.

      We have the technology but scared to give it to the public. Once given they will grow more faster than any one.


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