The Digital Immigrant’s Tale

The ship sailed towards the golden  land. He was frightened. What would he find? How could he cope?

The nearer he got the more his mind took him back to the land he had grown up in. This was a simple way of life. He had grown up knowing the ways of his ancestors. He was taught the things that they knew and that had been passed down for generations.

When he had gone to his school they had taught him to  read and write. He could grasp a pencil very early and he could make marks on a piece of paper. Then he came across books and he had “Janet and John” with those lovely pictures of happy children smiling in a happy world.

He grew up writing stories by pen in an exercise book. They were good stories he was told though he always had problems in holding the pen properly and his writing could make his hand ache.

He remembered the first time that he encountered something different. One Christmas, when presents were being distributed as they always were. He had been given a Meccano set. His brother has been given a toy typewriter. He had never really enjoyed making things out of nothing, his brother had an aversion to writing and  but loved creating things from string and sticks or getting some construction kit and making a model from what seemed like little bits of an impossible jigsaw.

Later, when he had settled into his new Digital land, he would find out about a man, Sir Ken Robinson, who would write a book that told about finding your “element”. He knew that his element was not in construction and his brother did not like writing. In an inspired moment worthy of the judgement of Solomon, his parents decided to swop the gifts around.

He faced the typewriter which worked very slowly and laboriously to put letter after letter onto a piece of typing paper. It was magical to him. He found that he could write and that with his writing came communication to others. It all came so easily.

But when he went to school he still had to fill up the exercise books which he struggled with. Why couldn’t he use a typewriter which he always found so easy to use? Because it just wasn’t done. He had to stick to the ways of the elders and he found frustration in seeing the beautiful writing that others produced.

But there was a problem with making mistakes… there was an insistence on the use of pen and so, if mistakes were made they had to be crossed through. Writing, it seemed had to be done on your own and there was no room for mistakes or your beautiful exercise book would look awful and you would be corrected about your presentation.

“WHAT ABOUT THE CONTENT!” he felt inside as he raged against the strictures of the society that bound him up. That did not allow his creativity to express itself and that judged his writing  in all subjects on the basis of presentation that he found difficult.

He had a problem with research as well. He knew that he could access the wise words of his betters by copying great chunks of their text into the body of his poorly presented writing and that he might get a good mark from his teachers for this. He could not play around with their words or get access to many other sources… most times there was just one textbook that was his only source of information.

He always worked alone. He did not discuss his work with others and he did not really think deeply about what he was writing. His audience was his teacher and he knew what his teacher wanted, even if he couldn’t always give it to him or her.

He grew up and by one of those  strange quirks that life doles out, he became a teacher. He found that he entered a world where he had to teach others in the same way that he had been taught himself. He forgot about his own frustrations with writing in exercise books and gave out the exercise books for his children at the beginning of each term. He smiled ruefully to himself as he remembered the way that he always thought that the exercise books looked so wonderful on that first day when they were new and in  pristine condition and before the pupils would have to struggle to put words in them with the same problems that he had always encountered.

As his long teaching career progressed he encountered things that were happening in the land that he was now heading towards. About twenty years ago he bought his first word-processor. It was an Amstrad machine and was dedicated to just one task… the electronic processing of words. But this was amazing to him. The typewriter of his youth had been replaced by a machine that could change text fonts, size, alignment and be corrected easily for mistakes. He could edit his work by looking at it carefully and deciding whether a word needed changing or a paragraph needed to be removed. It was as if he had discovered a magical kingdom.

The lure of the magical kingdom grew greater because there machines that the kingdom produced grew stronger and more capable. Then one day he was introduced to a powerful new thing… THE INTERNET.

This was indeed the most powerful change that he had seen in his lifetime. He found that he could access so much through this powerful new thing. He climbed on board the ship that was sailing towards this golden land of knowledge unlimited.

He found that as he progressed through the waters towards this land he could not only access the knowledge but that he could add to it, he could collaborate with others and that they would direct him to where new knowledge lay, that he could communicate with others and that they would find what he had to say useful and sometimes, important to them.

During this time as he carried on with what he liked to call his “learning journey” he encountered those who had been born and bred in this golden land. These were the “digital natives”. They did not know anything different from the power of the internet and the ability to facilitate communication, networking, socialisation in a world which they saw as an open global platform.

They seemed at ease with every new development and they took to the flexibility, the power and the potential as he had to holding that pen in his hand when he was young.

As he grew nearer the shores of the  golden land he knew that he did not need to fear. The natives he had met had shown him that there was nothing to fear (except fear itself.. to quote a famous phrase). Here he was embracing their world and loving every minute of it. He couldn’t wait to land.

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