The Newest “Digital Native”

Here is my awesome new son (Benjamin) on his second day in the hospital.


This picture is significant, first because my son is awesome, and second because he will grow up in a world where things like iPhones are commonplace. For me, the internet came into full swing in high school. For him, the formation of the internet will be something about which he'll learn as history. He will never know the world without it.

My parents grew up in a largely static technological environment
with no major technological shifts from the 40s through 60s. I am
maturing in an ever changing technological environment, accreting new
technologies each year. My little son will grow up with all of these technologies already in place – a world very
different mine or his grandparents.

Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants

To describe this phenomenon, Marc Prensky coined the term “digital native” in a magazine called Educational Leadership. He used to term to describe the current generation of children whose lives started after the internet age began. They are natives in the digital world, whereas we who entered the digital world later in life are “digital immigrants.” Prensky summarized what this means,

Our students are no longer “little versions of us,” as they may have been in the past. In fact, they are so different from us that we can no longer use either our 20th century knowledge or our training as a guide to what is best for them educationally.

Certainly, this is an interesting subject for general educators, but for today’s theological educators it is more than interesting – it must be an essential part of our concepts of humanity, the body of Christ, and the transmission of the Gospel.

Two Theological Issues

As I see, it there are (at least) two major issues related to the digital native vs. digital immigrant divide.

  1. Theology of the Word – The term the “word of God” is used throughout Scripture, but it tends refers mainly to the person of Christ and God’s communication to us (ironically, the biblical authors do not use the term “word of God” to refer to Scripture). Since the digital age modifies how we understand communication, the idea of “word” will need to be reexamined by both natives and immigrants.
  2. Theology of Relationality – The “image of God” means, at least in part, that humans are relational beings. In the digital age, many relationships are mediated by some form of technology, meaning that digital natives will understand “it is not good for humankind to be alone” differently than digital immigrants. For our churches to function as the “Body of Christ” we will need to be aware of how technology may separate the right hand from the left.