Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thursday Review—Digital Immigrant, or Those Who Remember Life BEFORE Digital Gadgets!

A guest post by Jackie Perry

Technology & the brains of digital immigrants

PART I: Technology and the Brains of Digital Immigrants
As the daughter of immigrants I grew up in a home where language and cultural norms were quite different than my neighborhood friends. I still remember the tension I felt in settings where I wasn’t quite sure how to interact with others. By slowly being immersed in American culture, however, I learned to watch, listen and mimic my friends—the cultural experts. Over time my social clumsiness faded and so did the accompanying stress. I soon found that I was reasonably proficient at relating to others in two totally different cultures as I practiced and incorporated new behaviors.

While social barriers like these may not be something you’ve had to face, perhaps you may be a cultural immigrant of another sort. These days if you were born before the age of digital technology, many would consider you a Digital Immigrant1. Similar to cross cultural immigrants, overcoming stress and social awkwardness will happen as you learn the language, norms and social expectations of this new age and assimilate it into your lifestyle.

iBrain, Surviving the technological
alteration of the modern mind
In Gary Small’s book, iBrain, he reveals how neuroscience research now reveals that the brains of Digital Immigrants are wired differently than those of Digital Natives. These differences make it more difficult for immigrants to learn new ways of interacting and relating to the world through technology. He offers fascinating insights, helpful tips and wise counsel to immigrants navigating their way through a foreign land.

Small states that “the typical Immigrant’s brain was trained in completely different ways of socializing and learning, by taking things step by step and addressing one task at a time.” (p.40) Thus learning new systems and socializing with others in today’s digital age goes against the neural circuitry that was laid down earlier in life.

The good news is that while the brain’s ability to adapt slows down significantly with age, the brain’s mature circuitry can be utilized to see the big picture by incorporating new learning into existing templates in the brain. Even as the brain ages it remains malleable or flexible and can be retrained throughout life, often by integrating regions of the brain. So if you’re an old dog like me, take heart! You really can learn new tricks especially by observing the behaviors of other immigrants (like Edie!) who have made sense out of a culture that wasn’t a part of our brain’s hard wiring early in life.

Our brains are social organs that atrophy when not
regularly exposed to human contact
Be warned, however, even if your brain adapts well to socializing and learning in this digital era, don’t abandon old ways of relating to others. Studies repeatedly reveal that our brains are social organs that atrophy when not regularly exposed to human contact. This shouldn’t come as a surprise when we consider its Master designer. God created us for a relationships and calls us to love others well.  Loving others can certainly happen in front of a screen but it must also occur in front of a face. Your brain and theirs requires that of you.

1Marc Prensky, On the Horizon (MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001)

NEXT WEEK-PART 2:  Technology and the Brains of Digital Natives (those of you who don’t recall a life without gadgets!) 

Jackie E. Perry
Jackie E. Perry is a counselor, speaker and writer. She has spent the last two decades counseling teens and families. As a dynamic speaker and writer Jackie is passionate about encouraging and equipping parents and professionals to walk purposefully and lovingly alongside adolescents in their final trek toward adulthood. She's married to her best friend and together they are the parents of two teens and one tween.

You can connect with Jackie through her motivational blog,, follow her on Twitter at @Jackieperry67, or you can contact her to speak at your church, organization, or professional group by sending an email to


  1. What an interesting book! Love the insight here, especially the scoop on our brains atrophying when they're not exposed to human (face to face) contact.

    Wow. Sounds like a good excuse to have coffee with a friend!
    Thanks, Edie & Jackie!

    1. Susan, I was really excited to sit beside Jackie at dinner at the most recent Christian Communicators Conference where we met. She's a wealth of information and so happy to share! Thanks for stopping by, Blessings, E

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  2. I am glad you enjoyed the article Susan. I am amazed at how neuroscience research continues to reveal to us how and why our brains require relationships! Yes, coffee with a friend is a must! Take care, Jackie Perry

  3. This is fascinating information.

  4. As an old dog, it's good to know that I can still learn this stuff. I know it would have been easier in my younger years, but I've got the experience of persevering to give me hope that eventually I'll catch on. Thanks, Jackie.

  5. Very intriguing article. Can't wait for part 2!