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The exchange went something like this:

Friend: I Skyped you last night but you didn’t reply.

Me: I wasn’t on Skype last night.

Friend: But your status said you were online.

Me: Just because Skype says I’m online, doesn’t mean I’m on Skype.

And just because I’m online doesn’t mean that I’m using Facebook, or checking my Twitter, or updating my Linkedin profile, or responding to my email. It simply means that I have my smartphone on and I am connected.

The infographic above shows that 43% of their US respondents never disconnect from web-based technologies. Add to this a further 17% who unplug ‘a few times a year’ and you end up with a full 60% who are ‘almost always connected’. I very much suspect that, if surveyed, Australia would present a similar profile. The full article breaks down the demographics further but what was significant for me was the link this had to an article which I read recently.

I’d been reading the article – Digital Residents: practices and perceptions of non-native speakers – in preparation for a Twitter hashtag chat on the shift from CALL (computer assisted language learning) to MALU (mobile assisted language use) where the author, Huw Jarvis, was to lead the discussion. It was a good chat (the summary is here) but the hour that we had didn’t really allow the participants to discuss the themes of language learners’/users’ connection and connectivity in detail.

“I am online all the time but I am not using [social media] all the time” – this quote in the article could have been me talking about my non-appearance on Skype but it was actually an L2 student.

The need to be connected, constantly connected, is important to digital natives. Being constantly connected does not, however, equate to constantly connecting. There’s a particular need being met in just knowing that the accessibility is there. There’s a reason that the word ‘nomophobia’ exists – the anxiety about a possible disconnect is very real (even if the etymology of the word itself is laughable).

“Smartphones are generally the preferred devices for residing in and expressing [the digital natives’] networked self” says Jarvis and it is becoming more and more apparent that L2 learning and use can take place within these spaces of digital residence and through this networked self-expression.

By acknowledging and permitting this need for connection, we can increase and enhance the opportunities for use and for incidental, informal learning. Broadband speed is beyond the control of educators, but we hope that our government can bring our services up to speed (literally) soon, so that they are comparable with those in Europe and Asia. Where we do have some input is in our schools, colleges, and language learning institutions. Reliable free wifi, areas where students can plug in to use or to recharge devices (never underestimate the power of a recharge station!), acceptance of devices as learning tools rather than distractions –these will all go a long way to creating an atmosphere where digital residents will feel welcomed and that will smooth the way for learning flow.