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Some digital immigrants “just don’t get it”, and probably never will

by Gene Phifer  |  September 28, 2008  |  8 Comments

In talking with lots of clients at Gartner’s Web Innovation Summit, held a couple of weeks ago in LA, the difference between digital natives and digital immigrants was reinforced.  As a reminder, digital natives were born in the Internet era and are the folks that are out here blogging, twittering, posting, and socially interacting on the Web, while digital immigrants were born prior to this era, and frequently don’t use Web 2.0 technologies or approaches.

We had lots of Web 2.0 sessions at the Summit, and in talking with clients at roundtables, 1-1’s and during happy hours, it became clear to me that some digital immigrants may never adapt to the Web 2.0 world.  These guys know about this stuff,  see their teenage children on the Web all the time, and frequently have tried it out, but in their own words, “just don’t get it”.  They don’t see the value of broad participation, of communities, of crowdsourcing, and of extensive peer-to-peer interaction.  At least they don’t see the value of these things as delivered via Web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis, social networks, RSS and tagging tools.

Unfortunately, if the folks that “don’t get it” are in decision making roles in their enterprise, adoption of new Web technologies and approaches may be delayed for years in those enterprises.  Maybe they will “get it” eventually, but for some, I predict that they will retire before they do.

It’s too bad that this group won’t see this posting, but since they don’t believe in blogging, they won’t have an opportunity to refute my position.   

How many digital immigrants will never “get it”?  I don’t have a number in mind, but I’d love to come up with one.  Any suggestions?

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Category: web  

Tags: blog  digital-immigrant  digital-native  rss  social-network  tagging  web-20  wiki  

Gene Phifer
VP, Distinguished Analyst
21 years at Gartner
47 years IT industry

Gene Phifer is a VP, Distinguished Analyst in Gartner Research. Mr. Phifer covers customer engagement strategies, including customer experience, employee experience, user experience and digital experience technologies.Read Full Bio


Thoughts on Some digital immigrants “just don’t get it”, and probably never will


  1. Whit says:

    I’m not sure “immigrants” is right, Gene — just for the sake of conversation. (Not that we need new terminology.) I guess what I am thinking is that people immigrate because they WANT to “get it,” and so are much more likely to do so. I immigrated. I used to only like command line interfaces because I thought the GUI stuff distracted one from Real Work. (I may have had a point. We’ll never know.)

    What about the “digital internees”? Or something like that — we have roomfuls of people who won’t get it, maybe, or maybe they will — but they have no choice but to deal with it. There is a world of people out there who are, like me, wrestling with this whole cultural shift, and doing so while they’re trying to get their regular jobs done.

    I’m trying to understand video, for example, and I have decided to cover Digital Asset Management at Gartner now. I can spend time looking at YouTube and saying, “darn — that’s tough.” But for a lot of these folks, they never immigrated — they just looked up one day and were citizens of an alien nation. That’s hard.

  2. Gene Phifer says:

    The folks I am referring to are digital immigrants because they are citizens of the digital society (vs. the analog society), but they haven’t assimilated culturally to the latest era, Web 2.0.
    We are actually working on a research note that identifies classes of digital immigrants, as we believe it is important that enterprises understand the different behaviors and demands of these different demographic groups. Stay tuned.

  3. David says:

    I’m not sure it’s important to come up with a number of how many people will never get it. It’s kind of like trying to figure out how much water you’ll never drink. You do hit on a very cogent reality: there are people who don’t get it in decision making positions. As someone who is part of the native culture, I run up against these people every day. My time is best spent in trying to make a business case for this cultural behavior rather than trying to figure how how many I’m up against. I find that once you explain ROI, productivity improvement, employee attraction, satisfaction and retention they quickly perk up. When put in terms they understand they shift to the ‘want to get it’ mode, as Whit put it. They may never ‘adapt,’ but they realize they need to enable. That’s really all that’s necessary.

    One, last, random observation – there are people who do and don’t get it in every generation, in every company. The job of the company is to promote good leadership that will do what’s best for the company (a little idyllic, I know). Because there is a good business case for the type of cultural behavior you’re promoting, leaders should be responsive.

  4. Rohan Thomas says:

    Correct Gene, these ‘digital immigrants’ are never gonna get it.
    David also pointed out that it’s the job of a company to promote good leadership, idyllic, yes, but true.
    Often times what I have seen is that it’s the leadership at the top level that don’t get it – and the effort to promote web 2.0 often needs to come from the bottom – which of course doesn’t always succeed.
    Whatever the number of these digital immigrants is, I sure hope it decreases for everyone’s sake…

  5. […] Phifer pointed out in his blog post that some Digital Immigrants “just don’t get” Web 2.0 and probably never […]

  6. Gene Phifer says:

    The reason that I was trying to quantify this is to attempt to apply scope to the problem. Is it the majority of immigrants or the minority? 10% or 90%?

    Personally, I think that the majority of digital immigrants will get it in the next few years. But there will be a visible minority that won’t get it. And I think that Whit is right that even some that don’t get it will allow their companies to adapt. Those that don’t allow adaptation to Web 2.0 will eventually face retribution from customers and employees.

  7. […] Gene Phifer’s blog post Some Digital Immigrants Just Don’t Get It reminded me of a presentation on Digital Natives as customers that I delivered earlier this week in […]

  8. Andy Bitterer says:

    Hey Gene, maybe you should also adopt the term “Digital Ignorants” for those folks that “don’t get it’. Has been working for me 🙂



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