A Digital Immigrant (Gwen Moritz Editor's Note)

After much gnashing of teeth, I just bought my first digital tablet, a Kindle Fire HDX. A friend asked why I needed a tablet, and my response was that I don’t need one, but I know that’s the direction my industry is headed and the train left the station with the introduction of the iPad almost four years ago.

Believe it or not, there was a time when I was pretty much on the cutting edge of digital media. My older brother went to work for Tandy Electronics in Fort Worth in the mid-’70s, when I was just a kid, and he had a very early home computer that I messed around with. I started using a computer in the workplace in 1982, and by 1989 my husband and I were so hooked on word processing that we invested what amounted to 5 percent of our annual income in our first personal computer.

In 1992, when I was stuck at home in the evenings because my toddler went to sleep at 7 p.m. while my husband worked until 10, I personally installed a 1200-baud modem in a pre-Windows “XT” PC and subscribed to an online service called Prodigy. There I met a dozen other working mothers from all over the country who remain among my closest friends and confidants — although, 22 years later, several of them are now retired grandmothers. (How did that happen?)

In the mid-’90s, I even created a rudimentary website for my employer, and I’m amazed at how much of my original site organization has survived online for almost two decades.

So I was a successful early adopter of computers and the Internet, but at some point it seems I stopped advancing with technology. I still write a few checks every month. I haven’t yet found a cellphone app that I think is worth paying for (although my husband gladly pays for MLB.com At Bat). A year or so ago, my son said, gently, “Mom, when I watch you text, it hurts my heart.” And, until this month, I had not invested in a tablet and probably could have gone along happily for a while longer.

Here’s what pushed me over the edge: I listened to a presentation on mobile media by Claus Enevoldsen, a senior vice president with Next Issue Media, which aims to be a one-stop, one-price provider of online magazines — a sort of Netflix for magazines.

Enevoldsen’s excellent English is delivered in a Danish accent, which underscored his message: No matter how hard I try, I will never be a “digital native” like my kids, who have never known a day without a PC in their home and who learned to text before they learned to type (or “keyboard”) — and much more efficiently.

Even though I have effectively lived in a digital world longer than they have, I will always be a “digital immigrant” — someone who grew up before the digital era and who has had to convert old-school skills into new-age applications. I can use computers and the Internet and cellphones and, now, tablets, but no matter how hard I try, I will never use them exactly the same way that digital natives do. I always use them with what Enevoldsen called “an accent.” And with every new technological development that I fail to master, my accent will be more and more pronounced.

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The first thing I did with my Kindle Fire was download a book from the Amazon Prime lending library: “Moneyball.” (It’s a fascinating book with a great message for those of us who must find ways to play against bigger, richer competitors that I should have read years ago — but at least I hadn’t already seen the movie.) It was the first e-book I had ever read, and I have to say that I enjoyed the experience. For digital immigrants of a certain age, being able to adjust the type size is a distinct advantage.

When I bought the tablet, I also bought a Bluetooth keyboard because there’s no way I’m ever going to type efficiently directly onto a touch screen.

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I recently got a text on my cellphone from an unknown number talking about things that meant nothing to me. When I responded with a question, the sender’s inadvertently amusing reply reminded me of the deep divide that remains between digital immigrants and digital natives:

“Sorry,” he or she texted. “I must have typed a wrong number.”

Dialing, my fellow digital immigrants, is a thing of the past.

Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.

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