I was at a teaching conference this weekend and during one of the talks, a presenter made reference to an idea that I had never heard of before: “Digital residents and digital visitors.” He explained that this was the new terms that people were using instead of digital natives (which has had a fair amount of criticism thrown at it recently). Intrigued, I decided to do a bit of research into what the term meant and what relevance it might have for us in Church tech.
A digital visitor is someone who uses the digital technology and the internet for a specific task. Such as searching for the answer to a question, or uploading a video. In this sense, they are visiting the internet to do a task and then leave.
A digital resident uses the internet to connect or be with other people. As such, their identity is exhibited by their online presence and they “live online”. This type of person might well default to going online or using the internet for something even if they don’t have a specific task in mind.
This is really a continuum rather than a dichotomy and in certain areas, or situations people might exhibit more of one type of attitude than another. This may mean that we move from one stage to another over time, or that we do some “resident activities” (blogging, commenting on social media etc) but most of the time disengage from the internet or use it for “visitor tasks.” It might even be possible to spend more time on the internet, but only do “visitor” tasks than someone who only does resident tasks online (though I’d be surprised if you could avoid doing any visitor tasks).
Church Tech Implications
I certainly think this is a useful framework to evaluate how we use technology and the internet and whether we spend more time performing visitor tasks or resident tasks. I also think that it can be useful to consider if these resident activities are beneficial for us, after all, recent studies have shown that the more you use Facebook, the less happy you are.
But I also believe there are some wider tech implications that we need to consider for our churches.
For example, are we catering to both visitor and resident needs? Do we provide good informative content that people might search for, and are we helping people to build relationships and connect with people online. Maybe your social media accounts focus too much on one at the expense of the other, then again, perhaps you are covering the other need via a different service.