You’re not digital natives, you’re settlers

Oh no — I’ve just come across the phrase ‘digital immigrant’ in opposition to ‘digital native’. The implication is that those born into the internet age are naturals at navigating its byways and cultural mores. I don’t think the term ‘digital immigrant’ is supposed to bring the foul right-wing political discourses of migration into play — but even if you natives are multicultural and ‘tolerant’ of us immigrants’ bumbling efforts with emoji, or our quaint refusal to document our every move on Buckface, there is still a fundamental misunderstanding here.

If we’re really going to play in these poisioned metaphorical waters then I’m claiming ‘indigenous’ and you youngsters can have ‘settlers’. Cyberspace (as we oldies used to call it) once felt wide open, free and gloriously underpopulated. Sure, it was harder to get stuff done, but there was craft and style in those old ways. The early settlers built shining towers: ‘user friendly’, ultra-commercialised prisons of auto-reflexive affect. The next wave poured in their souls, hungry for a moment’s display in the shop window. Shrieking voices garble nonsense; refriended, instagrimmed and snapcocked by the thousand. Old values shrink back. Collective responsibility for the commons has all but disappeared since the digital enclosures.

And yet you claim to be the natives? You, who can interpret a smiling turd but can’t articulate the difference between the Internet and the Web? You, who can’t begin to explain why hypertext is the fundamental technical innovation behind the babble bubble? You, who might even believe that there’s nothing wrong with surveillance when you’ve got nothing to hide?

Rant over. Come have a hug, youngster, this isn’t your fault. But we need to talk.