Are You a Digital Native or a Digital Immigrant? Being Client Centred in the Digital Era

By Brown, Ted | British Journal of Occupational Therapy, July 2011 | Go to article overview

Are You a Digital Native or a Digital Immigrant? Being Client Centred in the Digital Era


Brown, Ted, British Journal of Occupational Therapy


From a historical and demographic perspective, a generation is viewed as the average interval of time between the birth of parents and the birth of their children. Traditionally, this implies that a generation typically spans around 20 years, and this matches the generations up to and including the Baby Boomers. Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, while Generation X generally includes individuals born in the mid-1960s up to the early 1980s. Generation Y comprises individuals born between 1982 and 1994 (Howe and Straus 2000). They claim to be different from the previous generation in their familiarity with communications, media and digital technologies, and in the regularity and acumen with which they use them.

Generation Z, or the Net Generation, is the term coined for the group of people born between the early 1990s and early 2000s (McCrindle 2006). Generation Z is highly connected and networked, with many of this cohort having experienced a lifelong use of communications and media technologies, such as the World Wide Web, text messaging, MP3 players, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Skype, mobile phones and YouTube, earning them the nickname digital natives (Prensky 2001). Members of the Baby Boom era and Generation X are often referred to as digital immigrants, since their level of exposure to, and competence with using, technology varies and they did not grow up with it (Prensky 2001). 'Generation Y [and Z] have been exposed to these new options during their formative years and so the digital language and technology is almost their first language. They are technological "natives" compared to say the Baby Boomer "digital immigrants" who migrate to the latest technology' (McCrindle 2006, p15). It has been proposed that the subsequent generation, born from 2010 onwards, will be called Generation Alpha, and will be truly the first millennial generation since they will be the first human cohort born completely in the 21st century (McCrindle 2011).

Occupational therapists use client-centred practice approaches, with the goal of improving clients' daily occupational performance, health and wellbeing. Concurrently, technology has become deeply embedded in the daily lives of people, and often enables the daily occupations in which they participate (for example, online banking, social networking, work-related activities, computer games and online education). Occupational therapists frequently use technology to promote, augment or remediate clients' daily occupational performance. …

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