On Being a Digital Leopard Frog, or Living Among the Digital Natives (Throwback Thursday)

This summer I introduced an occasional feature I call “Throwback Thursday.” This is where I find a blog post from the past–raiding either my own vault or someone else’s–and throw it back out into the digital world. This might be an idea or book that is now relevant again, or a concept I’d like to think about more, or even “an oldie but a goodie” that I think needs a bit of spin time.

I wrote this post three years ago when I was thinking about the opportunities and consequences of our so-called “digital native” generation. I was writing government policy for higher education and workforce development at the time. I found myself skeptical of the two easiest messages to cling on to. Though I think parents do damage to their kids in protecting them (see here), I utterly reject the “kids these days” apocalypticism that imagines Millenials as a whiney, entitled, moronic zombies mudding up the economic waters. And I was skeptical, on the other side, that somehow innovation and integrity have been gifted to a generation of digital natives who can intuitively use their knowledge to create a robot revolution for good. I have great confidence in this generation, and though I detest the language–I was coding before DOS but don’t own an iMac, so what does that make me?–I hope that digital natives can teach us a lot. But I also think we sometimes underestimate the trade-offs in our iManic race for tech-utopia.

I have talked about this before, writing “sabbath unplugged” for Geez magazine and tagging into C.S. Lewis’ “Instructions for Avoiding God.” This amphibious post, though, keeps coming back to my mind, especially after teaching a course on technoculture last spring. And though I’ve tweaked this piece a bit, I still want to be a Digital Leopard Frog.

Imagine digital technologies as the creatures that live in the Reptile Room at your local zoo or aquarium. I think there are three types of technology creatures in our culture zoo today.

Technology Turtles are our reptilian luddites. They withdraw from technological advancements into their hard shells whenever they are threatened. This could be the invention of a new social media platform, or it could be a social revolution like the move from script to type, from paper to digital, from desktop to handheld technology, or from tech as separate from our bodies to tech that is laced into our fleshly infrastructure.

Digital Hardbacks may be classic luddites in that they resist the revolution because of some important principle. More often, however, they either love the old ways—and so resist the new ones—or they have been hurt in the dangerous world of digital Darwinism. They thought they lived in a certain world and now discover they are digital refugees. Once Bitten Twice Shy Technological Turtles rarely peak their beaks out in a digitally rich environment. Turtles move forward, but very slowly.

I have no desire to become a Technology Turtle. Who would want to miss the great things that new technologies and social media have to offer?

At the other side of the enclosure you will find the Connected Chameleon. The tech-savvy Chameleon is on the cutting edge of every social media moment. They don’t merely use technology. They adapt to it. They are able to spot a new creative environment and they quickly find a way to blend in. They are so adept at tech access that it is soon difficult to tell the user from the technology. Connected Chameleons disappear into their digital environment as digital natives comfortably inhabit the land they are designing.

Although I love tech talk and new inventions, I don’t want to be a Connected Chameleon either. I think too often our generation’s identity is lost in the tools we use.

Instead, I want to be a Digital Leopard Frog.

Leopard Frogs live double lives. About the size of a child’s fist, these little soldiers have adapted to life in water and on land.

In the technological world, Digital Leopard Frogs are also amphibious, able to live in the world of script as comfortably as the world of type. We love print books, but pick up an eBook with ease. We admire inkwells and classic typewriters in the antique store, but pound out our thoughts on keyboards or thumb-tap them into a smartphone. We can pick up social media, but set it aside when it is time to chat with a friend or play outside. Digital Amphibians can fall in love with a tablet or curl up with a book beside a glowing fire.

Digital Leopard Frogs live the double life of the old and the new, finding our way in the world with past-forward spirituality. We might be digital immigrants or digital natives, but we always find a home.

Besides a take-it-or-leave-it approach to technology, Leopard Frogs also teach us another thing about culture. Frogs are canaries in the mine when it comes to natural environments. The North American Leopard Frog has been decimated in population in the last 50 years. In their own creaturely way, they are telling us about the poisons in our natural world.

Because Technology Turtles shelter themselves from culture, they cannot tell us of its subtle dangers. And because Connected Chameleons are so skilled at blending in, they are often too close to see when the digital environment is poisonous.

Digital Leopard Frogs, though, are close enough to know the best, but far enough away to see the worst. Our amphibious ways give us a prophetic view of the culture around us.

In all these ways, I am Digital Leopard Frog.

Where do you live in the Reptile Room of Contemporary Culture?

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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6 Responses to On Being a Digital Leopard Frog, or Living Among the Digital Natives (Throwback Thursday)

  1. Hannah says:

    I live literally between two big brown frogs (one each in front and in back gardens, crammed full with beautiful flowering plants as their environment) and recognise myself best in your description of a leopard frog (minus the “American”), but am a turtle when paying my bills, still not daring to take that digital jump ;-))

    I am still wondering about a sentence from your last reply in the previous blog, that seems to fit well with the “writing government policy“ sentence in this introduction.
    “I come from a country where we agreed that, with reason, we are the weight of things like road …… And where we don’t share the whole weight, we lighten the burden for some, like in higher education …………. I largely agree with it, though as someone who actually worked as a government policy writer (for just 4 years), I disagree with emphasis and implementation a lot…”
    Is that country Canada? What did you mean with “we are the weight of things like …” and did you refer with “the whole weight, we lighten …” to something like a social care system we still have in Holland?
    Something else I have been thinking about because of other comments in that chain: does having been disappointed by eg a system or party, diminish our own calling to be salting salt so that we can put our light under a bushel? We live in a broken and often dark world, are bound to be disappointed and make mistakes ourselves, but should that prevent us from showing forth something of God’s Kingdom to come, in however frail a way?

    Like

    • Hannah says:

      Honouring John McCain!!

      Like

    • You are right about the cost of the digital generation. Back in the 1900s, I was 12 when I saved $100 for a used computer. My grandparents bought me an old TV for $25 to hook it up to, and I got the accessories little by little. We didn’t have an operating system and worked in DOS. Then I bought a $350 computer, and so on. My son just spent 2 years saving (he is 13) and bought an iMac to power his recording studio. There is only one cell phone in our house with a relatively cheap plan, but with phones, internet, that cell phone, virus software for each device, MS for each device, and a half dozen computers (5 are needed, one inherited), we have a serious chunk of change going each year to computers.

      Yes, I’m Canadian, and worked for nearly four years half time for provincial government policy writing and research. I don’t know about the Netherlands’ health care system. I suspect that you have better auxiliary health care, like dental and pharmacare, while those things are largely covered through private insurance plans or work plans. Not totally, kids under 6 and those on social assistance get health care, and there is some senior pharmacare program. But I couldn’t do a comparison. Except for some poorer regions, Canada has struck a good balance of social and personal responsibility, so we don’t get the disincentive to work or the drop in productivity of work that we saw in some Eurozone countries. But we, almost as bad as the US, struggle with things that will increase our social care cost, like obesity, addiction, a lack of work-life balance, and a desperate clinging to life at all costs using medical means, regardless as to the quality of life.

      So I don’t know how that compares. I do know that in my experience Dutch folk feel pretty warmly about Canadians, and the Dutch people of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation that are hear have done well.

      As far as disappointment, we are always called to be salt and light. Yeast too. Some are called to be more one than the other. Some are called to be in the dark places, like government leadership. Navigating calling through disappointment is always difficult, regardless of whether one is a priest, a poet, a politician, a professor, a painter, a parent, or a patent officer.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hannah says:

        Yes, I also think that Dutch people feel warmly towards Canadians, also because of Canada’s big contribution to the liberation of Holland from German occupation! That is still being celebrated each year on 5 May, with Wageningen (the town neighbouring my village) as centre, as the peace treaty was signed there. For many years veterans would come over for that, and some are still able to!

        I know too little of either ‘auxiliary'(?) system to be able to compare them, but both still seem to be based on the principle of the strong, healthy and wealthy ‘lightening the burden’ of the weak, sick and poor – is that what you meant?

        And of course also yeast, had forgotten about that!

        Liked by 1 person

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