Orphans, Exiles and Heirs; Do we fit in this new digital minefield ?


The article, “Opinion: Forget “digital natives”, Here’s how kids are really using the Internet” by Alexandra Samuel, further explores the fractured groups within today’s technological society.

It discusses three distinct types of “Digital Natives” and highlights Samuel’s opinion of differences between the groups due to their home environments. Samuel’s believes despite these people being born during the Digital Age they all do not posses the same skill sets as each other when it comes to the use of the World Wide Web; and this is due to their differences in exposure and guidance to the internet at home.

I do tend to agree with this, however I do not believe that it diminishes in any way the ability of any “Digital Native” to easily learn and adapt themselves to new online environments once they are guided through it.

Samuel’s describes each of the groups as the following:-

  1. “Digital orphans have grown up with a great deal of tech access — but very little guidance.”
  2. “Digital exiles are at the opposite extreme — they’ve been raised with minimal technology.”
  3. “Digital heirs have impressive tech skills, thanks largely to their parents and teachers.”

After reading the descriptions Samuel’s has put fourth I have identified myself with a Digital Orphan however I find myself torn between the lack of guidance I was given growing up with technology and the description of Digital Orphans as adults given by Samuel’s. I am personally in no way reliant on technology to the extreme of scheduling cleaning times via an app. Nor do I prefer online relationships to face to face relationships.

I am also from a very strict family and have younger relatives that were not allowed access to any technology until they were 16 (unless it was a requirement of their school education), they were “Digital Exiles”, I have personally watched these relatives grow into having healthy online relationships. They have benefited from being removed from the internet until they were old enough for the responsibility. There was no online vengeance and no reluctance to embrace technology once it was allowed to them. They now often assist me when I am having trouble finding a shortcut or navigating a new program.

I do see more of a direct link with my students and “Digital Heirs” as they are able to navigate all aspects of computers, tablets, smart screens and apps. However, unlike the description given my students do not demand anything. They are courteous and understanding, helpful and encouraging to anyone who is having trouble with using any form of technology. They readily help and work together to problem solve.


Moving into the future I now have a better understanding of Digital Immigrants, Natives, Exiles, Orphans and Heirs; and I am able to identify my own personal experiences and encounters with each of them.

Whilst I think the three distinct groups Samuel’s has identified do exist and I can see the logic in her approach, I do not think the descriptions of them are entirely accurate and I am unsure how Samuel’s came to the conclusion of these descriptions.

After reading Samuel’s data analysis outlined within “Parents: Reject Technology Shame” I came to the conclusion that the parents of these Digital Natives have been the ones surveyed, the “mentors, enablers and limiters”, and that the descriptions of the types of Natives being raised are a developed opinion from Samuel’s herself.

I look forward to reading any new research, or further developing opinions, on the matter as we move further into the 21st Century and Digital Immigrants become a remnant of the past. The Digital Age is so progressive I foresee even Digital Natives being left behind if they are disconnected for too long.

Gemma Tolmie

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