Digital Natives or .......... Digital Immigrants

Will Digital Native Transinterpreters replace Digital Immigrant Translators and Interpreters?

Digital Natives or .......... Digital Immigrants

I am taking a Coursera/UCIrvine course on Advanced Instructional Strategies in the Virtual Classroom

( One of the forums has addressed the concept (relatively new to me) of digital natives and digital immigrants.

Digital Natives are basically those individuals born after 1990 (25 years or younger). The rest of us are Digital Immigrants, also known as “internet boomers” (35+ NOT 65+).

As Digital Immigrants, we have had to learn HOW TO USE technology and, sometimes quite slowly... There is a difference between knowing a few tools and being fully conversant in the new technologies.... for example, many two-years-olds are able to hold a mobile phone or a tabled and already know what to do, because they are Digital Natives.

When it comes down to communication, the digital natives are speaking one language and the rest of us are speaking a totally different language. Think of software engineers who find it difficult to communicate certain concepts to artists, even if they were born and raised in the same country and apparently speak the same “language” – because in reality they speak “different” languages: programming language vs. the language of images.

I believe that younger translators and interpreters have more possibilities to learn (faster) new technologies. Sadly, some older translators and interpreters are only learning to manipulate only some of the new tech tools, and even so, reluctantly. Many are just giving up. It is not easy to move from the old “face-to-face” interpreting encounter or “dictionary-based art form” translation to the virtual global village of the 21st Century.

The entire educational/teaching structure is experiencing similar tectonic shifts as we see in the translation/interpreting industry, where many of the old parameters are no longer valid. One of the teachers attending the Coursera learning experience stated – and I agree – that probably “some sort of Darwinist solution could be to simply wait until those old teachers retire. It is also a cruel solution. But, believe it or not, that's exactly what we are doing, and we don't even realize it. We are just waiting. Saving our own souls...” [J.M. Lagos Huerta]

I think that, indeed, many translators and interpreters are doing just that.... “saving their souls” while the digital natives take over the jobs. That is the basis for the urgency of my call to all translators and interpreters. We might not be replaced by technology, but we will certainly be replaced by translators and interpreters using technology.

Technology today is not what the digital immigrants (we) think it is. Digital immigrants are functional in traditional technologies like using computers to access files, manipulating content online, submitting assignments electronically, or communicating via videoconference. But that is not enough. We must reimagine our role in the digital world of today.

Another of my peer-students (teacher C. Stapleton) in the Coursera course quoted some important passages of the Marc Prensky texts that explain the concept of digital natives and digital immigrants (see references below). Teachers are exposed to many of the same earth-shattering experiences our industry is undergoing in this new century, so let me re-quote Prensky via Stapleton

"Children raised with the computer―think differently from the rest of us. They develop hypertext minds. They leap around. It’s as though their cognitive structures were parallel, not sequential.‖ 21 ―Linear thought processes that dominate educational systems now can actually retard learning for brains developed through game and Web-surfing processes on the computer...For example, thinking skills enhanced by repeated exposure to computer games and other digital media include reading visual images as representations of three-dimensional space (representational competence), multidimensional visual-spatial skills, mental maps, ―mental paper folding‖ (i.e. picturing the results of various origami-like folds in your mind without actually doing them), ―inductive discovery‖ (i.e. making observations, formulating hypotheses and figuring out the rules governing the behavior of a dynamic representation),―attentional deployment (such as monitoring multiple locations simultaneously), and responding faster to expected and unexpected stimuli." (Prensky, Part 2)

Christopher then opens the question of the disconnect in the genetic brain function (brain plasticity), seen in digital natives versus digital immigrants, and states that “If digital native brains can change and shift into their environments, why can't digital immigrants do the same? Why can't digital immigrants take time to play video games with digital immigrants while listening to fast music? If digital immigrants can follow the thought patterns to be initiated into a digital native, wouldn't that spring forth new ideas of how to create better, and more effective tools ...? Digital natives want to get on with the program. "―We KNOW the technology works," they retort. We just want to get on with using it."33" (Prensky, Part 2).

"Digital Natives accustomed to the twitch-speed, multitasking, random-access, graphics-first, active, connected, fun, fantasy, quick-payoff world of their video games, MTV, and Internet are bored by most of today’s education, well meaning as it may be. But worse... many skills [have actually been enhanced by the new technologies] (e.g., parallel processing, graphics awareness, and random access)..." (Prensky, Part 2)

Now, many of you translators and interpreters might be thinking, yes, very interesting, but what does this have to do with me? Everything. It has to do with everything that is going on in your world. It has to do with the impact that all the above is having on the way we humans communicate with each other. It has to do with how we interact. It has to do with cultural variations and cultural differences. It has to do with the fact that when we talk about cultural competency it is not only a geographical or linguistic or socio-cultural issue. It is also a generational issue. It will directly impact our jobs in the next decades. It is changing the face of the world right before our eyes, and many are just hiding their head in the sand.

For me the question is simple: are you going to adapt or not? Are you going to pursue the “save my soul” venue, or are you going to be earning a living at the end of this decade? Just like there are “victim” and “survivor” personalities, so too I believe there are those who can/will adapt and continue being productive members of society and those who will rest in their laurels and become part of history (the history of translation and interpreting before the 21st Century).

It is your decision. Yours only. If you decide to adapt, you are overdue, must run to catch up and be ready for a long, difficult and steep learning curve. But it is doable. At least today. What say you?