By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.

  • Have you encountered young clients who respond to texts during therapy sessions?
  • Have you received a Facebook friend request from a client?
  • Have your clients called you on your cell phone or texted you?
  • Have you heard endless complaints about how digital technologies negatively affect sons, daughters, students and employees?

Digital Divide

From psychotherapy and counseling offices to homes, classrooms and the workplace, there is growing confusion, misunderstanding, disagreement and tension between Digital Immigrants (the older generations) and Digital Natives (the younger generations). Anyone with parents, children, clients, students, teachers or employees knows there is a disparity, not only in technical skill but also in worldviews, between the old and the young. Contrary to popular belief, this is not due to ineptitude or ‘techno-resistance’ of baby boomers, but rather their entrance into the digital world at a later age. Digital Natives are Generation X and younger folks who grew up – in varying degrees – with technology. These natives understand technology in an intuitive manner that baby boomers rarely will.

Some of the most significant characteristics of Digital Natives are:

  • They are intuitive learners rather than linear. (They do not use or easily relate to manuals.)
  • They learn via participation rather than passively, as illustrated in the difference between Wikipedia and Britannica.
  • Their brains have developed a high capacity to multitask and to rapidly task-switch (hopping).
  • They see the world in less hierarchical terms – the Internet levels the playing field, making everyone more equal online.

My daughter (digital native) and myself (digital immigrant) have just completed a new article titled, “On Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives.” Feel free to forward it or post a link to it on your site.

Here are some tips and points to remember:

  • Immigrant Therapists: Before you criticize or label young clients, learn the unique characteristics of Digital Natives so you can be more effective in helping them live fully.
  • Parents: Your kids are not addicted simply because they like gaming. You kids are not ADHD because they can multitask and rapidly switch between tasks. Nagging is not effective, it just increases alienation.
  • Teachers and Educators: It’s time to re-vamp schools! Teaching history and English from textbooks is a way of the past. Realize that the natives prefer to participate and engage with others in the process of learning rather than learning passively, as previous generations did. Make good use of kids’ love of gaming and employ the many available educational games.
  • Employers and Supervisors: Understand that the natives multitask well, have different views of authority and often do not think in terms of company loyalty so much as innovation and creativity.
  • Therapists, Parents, Teachers, and Employers: Take an anthropological approach to learning about the digital culture. It will help you connect with the young ones and increase your effectiveness. Once you know the ropes, you will be more effective in setting helpful boundaries.
  • Young Folks: Your parents / teachers / grandparents / employers are not idiots for failing to understand technology or you. Be patient with them! Digital immigrants are new on the scene and did not grow up with the culture of technology like you did. Be helpful to them.

    In conclusion, technology is here to stay. With open mindedness comes the possibility of bridging the digital divide; with understanding we can help our children navigate through the dark sides of technology; with open hearts we can make therapy, home, school, and the workplace less conflicted and more harmonious; and with consciousness we can achieve a healthy relationship to digital technology and a healthy balance between our on-line and off-line lives.


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