(Wisconsin) I am not a “digital native,” someone who grew up with computers from infancy. Instead, I am an immigrant to the land of the digital–but I arrived here early. In mid-elementary school, my Mom took me and a friend to the Syracuse University computer lab, where we played around with a mainframe machine that used punch cards. Around the same period, one of my aunts had a friend who owned a store in New York City that sold robots and home computers. I visited the store and probably had some contact with a desktop computer.
By seventh grade, some of my friends knew a bit about how to use our middle-school’s work stations, which were networked with the downtown machine by way of old-fashioned modems. (You put the phone receiver in a velvet-lined box, closed the latch, and then dialed.) That year, I remember a friend telling me about computer viruses. By ninth grade, I owned a Commodore 64 for playing video games and programming a little in BASIC.
I arrived at college with a portable, manual (non-electric typewriter) which served me through freshman year. By the time I graduated, I was composing all my papers on one of the college’s shared Apple Macs.
As an immigrant to the land of the digital, I can still remember the Old Country and probably speak computerese with a slight offline accent. But I function well. I would be highly uncomfortable in a pre-digital world, and I have more experience with computers than the young digital natives whom I meet in high schools and colleges.
You can tell those who immigrated much later in life and who still long for the old country–the digital exiles. They may, for example, work from a single Word file, which they erase and rewrite every time they need a new document. That way, they don’t have to save and quit, which they have never quite learned to do. Another telltale sign: keeping all of one’s email in the inbox (forever) and only writing to people by replying to old emails. Using the email subject line “From [your name]” is also a mark of the digital exile.