Friday, November 30, 2012

How to Spot a Digital Immigrant

Your neighbors in Palo Alto
How do you spot a spy? 

During WWII, Britain’s M-5 suggested that if an enemy spy was living next door, he would be young, fit, have a slightly odd cut to his clothing and eat strange chocolates.  Watch, too, for a scar or limp, M-5 said, since parachuting from airplanes was treacherous business in the 1940s.

How about today?  WikiHow (To Do Anything) suggests that you might have a spy next door if the person is educated, physically strong and highly intelligent (unless you live in Palo Alto, in which case that’s just your neighbor).   Also, look for an intermittent work history (unless you live in Silicon Valley, in which case that may be your next boss).

It seems spies, despite their best efforts, almost always give themselves away.

Once upon a time, digital immigrants were easy as pie to spot, like knowing that the guy with shorts and black socks, complaining that he didn't get enough ice in his drink in the Paris bistro was, well, an American.

You might recall not many years ago the person who didn't own a computer, "and I don’t see any need for one, either.  I can keep my recipes in a box, thank you.”  Today, that person is perfecting his or her shuffleboard.

There was, you might remember, the CEO who had his secretary print all of his email so he could answer each message by hand, or perhaps by dictation.  (For you Gen Xer’s, write me and I’ll explain “dictation.”  Gen Yer’s, write me and I’ll explain the concept of a “secretary.”  Those younger, write and I'll explain "email.")  This was the same person with a wall of Rolodex across his desk, the prequel to the LinkedIn LION with 10,000 close, personal associates.

The other day I called a monument business to have an addition done to my parents’ gravestone and suggested to the nice receptionist that I email a picture of what I wished to have done.  She said—and to her credit, she laughed—“We don’t have email.”  I asked, inappropriately (and I’m sorry, too, but sometimes it just comes out): “Do you have indoor plumbing?”  Again, to her credit, she laughed.  That’s a digital immigrant.

Though, in retrospect, I guess people who make their living carving stone might indeed be the last to adopt email. 

Today, like spies, most digital immigrants are much, much harder to spot.  There has been time to learn and adjust.  Time to plot.  Time to deceive.

The other day I received a pretty good looking unsolicited resume by fax.  A bell went off.  The fax machine, like our home phone, has become the convenient repository for all incomings about which  I know I don’t have to bother.  (Do you need financing on your accounts receivable?  Do you want to win a free vacation?  Send money—I’m stuck in Johannesburg.  Hi, this is Mitt Romney.  Etc.)

Then, I thought, this might be a clever kind of “uncola” ploy so that the resume would not get lost in a mountain of email.  Cool.  But then I saw three things: a home phone (not mobile), no date on the education, and a Hotmail address.  Hotmail?  How about Prodigy?  How about "jobapplicant@ARPAnet"?  I had just seen the black socks and heard the loud complaining about too little ice.  Busted.

How do you text?  Watch a child.  It’s all thumbs and fast.  Wicked fast.  If you are poking with a single finger you get credit for texting but have been outed by the odd cut of your clothing.  Only digital immigrants poke.

If you let slip around the water cooler that you “have to be home tonight to see your favorite show on TV,” you are busted.  Your digital friends will be watching it on their tablets on Sunday morning over coffee and  a bagel.

Siri is a foreign country now in revolt?  Ubuntu is the dog from that 1960s kids' cartoon?  Linux will suck his thumb on an upcoming Christmas special? 

Wait.  You have Pong on your desktop?  Really.  You get credit for having a digital game. And a desktop.  But you are busted, Mr. Pacman.

Once upon a time, saying “I don’t have a computer” made you a digital immigrant.  Then it became, “I don’t do email.”  Now, “I’ve never had a Facebook account” is a pretty good sign, like a limp caused by a tangled parachute in 1944.  Next, “I don’t Tweet.”  That’s eating weird chocolate.  After that, “Google glasses look stupid and will cause accidents.”  Later still, “Nobody is putting a digital chip in my frontal lobe.”  It’s the steady and predictable progression of busted digital immigration.

The same is true for mobility.  “I don’t have a cellphone.”   That’s wearing shorts and black socks.  “I have a cellphone but don’t need a smartphone.”  That’s complaining about the lack of ice in your drink.  “I don’t bring my smartphone on vacation cause I want to be off the grid.”  That, my friend, is the 8% tip you leave after all that ugly complaining.  You are busted.

Digital natives were born on the grid.  In their land--far, far across the digital ocean blue--there is no such thing as off the grid.  You will never visit that land. You could not get there with a full tank of gas, even on the Space Shuttle.

Unless you were born after 1995, I promise, you are a digital immigrant and you will be exposed.  

You can text, tweet and tumblr all you want, but you cannot hide. 

We have our ways.