Digital natives, as defined by Prensky (2001), think differently than the previous generation does because they grew up with technology. They have never known a time when there were no cell phones and no Internet. Digital immigrants are those born in a less technology-rich world. Prensky describes the digital immigrant as someone who may be open to using new technologies but will always be limited as a result of growing up without 21st century tools.
The metaphor of the digital native and digital immigrant appeals to many because it appears to describe why some adults struggle to use email or program a smart phone while digital natives appear to effortlessly grasp skills such as texting, downloading a podcast, or multitasking.
Technology Changes Thinking
While many would agree that technologies can change the landscape of how the mind works, there are a great many variables that cannot be explained by this metaphor. For example, one premise of the digital native metaphor is that multitasking is a useful skill that comes naturally to the technological native. However, it now appears that multitasking is not always a useful cognitive skill (e.g., Keim, 2009). At times, it can reduce task effectiveness and distract the multitasker from attending well to complex thinking.