From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom: Hopeful Essays for 21st Century Learning


Marc Prensky

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    It's a wonderful honor to write the Foreword for Marc Prensky's new book, From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom: Hopeful Essays on 21st Century Learning. Marc is a provocative and prolific writer, marvelous speaker, and a courageous digital child advocate. He has the same passionate energy and courage of conviction as other child advocates I've known, such as Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund and Fred Rogers in public TV. He shares their same DNA and righteous indignation at the injustices that adults perpetrate on children. Marc continually tells us to take off our pretentious adult glasses, get down to the children's level, and see these curious, playful beings as the marvelous learning machines they are. If he started an organization, it might well be called the Digital Natives Defense Fund.

    This book collects Marc's own digital wisdom from essays written over the years. It ought to be packaged with every new computer and smartphone sold to educators, just like they used to put a sample of Tide detergent in new washing machines. Like that little box of soap, this book is the active ingredient that can help educators use their new devices more effectively.

    When starting up our Edutopia magazine in 2005, we turned to Marc as one of the most insightful writers we knew. Several of his essays, such as “Simulation Nation” and “The True 21st Century Literacy Is Programming,” first appeared in the magazine and on the website and always attracted lively commentary from readers.

    It's revealing to me to reread these essays and see the scope and evolution of Marc's thinking. In practicing what he preaches, Marc has been open to new ideas and trends and to adjusting his thinking based on new information. The past decade has certainly brought a rush of new digital platforms and tools, from YouTube to Facebook and Twitter. And with the global shift of power, it's abundantly clear that we need to prepare children for life and work in a world we can't predict. (I myself sometimes tire of the continuing parade of platforms and would like to create my own, simplifying their best features for digital immigrants, and call it YouTwitFace.)

    It's hard to believe that Marc's essay “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” was published 10 years ago and that a new generation of Digital Natives is entering our schools. The need for the educational system and those working in it to see its learners differently has become even more urgent. The fissures in the system are widening, and the days of the conventional classroom are clearly numbered. I particularly love his metaphor that the system needs a Delete button (a big one, in fact). Like so many Prenskyisms, it's an unforgettable way of encapsulating a key issue. We keep adding more programs, initiatives, and technologies, but we rarely eliminate the outdated policies and practices that prevent us from embracing the future.

    Another gem is “Turning On the Lights,” in which he gives voice to the fundamental problem so many students have with school: sheer boredom. He describes the rapidly growing divide between the knowledge kids can attain out of school and the narrow confines of their lives within it. And in “Simulation Nation,” he poses part of the solution: to embed learning in the types of game-based experiences that students flock to on their own. Whether we will invest in creating these new online worlds in which students can explore and collaborate indeed represents a key to the future of our nation.

    In the Epilogue, perhaps the most provocative essay, “From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom,” Prensky stretches his own digital muscles and peers into the future. Can the new generation of digital tools extend our senses and enhance our capacities, and, in essence, make us better, more compassionate people? I share Marc's hopeful vision for this future and believe that with pathfinders like him, we have a better chance of creating that wiser, more peaceful world.

    MiltonChen, Senior Fellow, The George Lucas Educational Foundation and Chairman, Panasonic Foundation

    About the Author

    Marc Prensky is an internationally acclaimed speaker, writer, consultant, visionary, and innovator in the field of education and learning. Marc's professional focus is on reinventing the learning process, designing new pedagogy and curriculum for the digital generation, and combining the motivation of new technology, video games, and other highly engaging activities with educational and business content. Considered one of the world's leading experts on the connection between technology and learning, Prensky was called by Strategy+Business magazine “that rare visionary who implements.”

    Prensky looks at education from the perspective of the receivers (that is, the students) rather than just the providers. He focuses on how to teach and motivate today's students, and on how to motivate and reinvigorate their teachers as well. Prensky promotes a new form of partnership between teachers and students, and, through his writings and talks, helps teachers learn to change their pedagogy to ways that are far more effective for 21st century students.

    Marc also focuses on how to teach future-oriented skills—including problem solving, partnering, collaborating in online communities, video making, and programming—as an integrated part of all curricula. He is a strong partisan of teachers' knowing and using students' individual passions as motivators and of students' participation in the design of their own education.

    In his talks around the globe, Marc initiates and conducts unique educator–student dialogues about the teaching and learning process. His innovative combination of pedagogy and technology—including game technology, where he was an early pioneer—is becoming increasingly accepted and used by educators worldwide as the wave of the future.

    Marc's background includes master's degrees from Yale University, Middlebury College, and the Harvard Business School with distinction. He has taught at all levels, from elementary to college, and ran a prototype charter school in East Harlem, New York.

    Marc also performed on Broadway and at Lincoln Center, worked on Wall Street, and spent six years as a corporate strategist and product development director with the prestigious Boston Consulting Group. After all that, he is thrilled to be back working in the field of education and learning.

    Marc is a native New Yorker, where he lives with his wife Rie, a Japanese writer, and their son Sky, a thriving student New York City's public schools.


    To Rie, for inspiring all these thoughts

  • Epilogue: From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom

    Homo Sapiens Digital

    Published in Innovate

    Initially there was some question on the part of my editor of whether to have this essay in this book, because it is less about education and schooling and more about the future of thinking and of humankind. But I wanted to include it because it points to a path that all educators will be trying to follow—and have their students follow—in the coming decades: the road toward “digital wisdom.” While we are still in the process of defining what that is, I believe it is already clear that wisdom, in the digital age, means something quite different than it has in the past and demands new skills of all individuals. I am now in the process of turning these ideas into a book. I hope you will enjoy my explorations as I ponder some of these difficult and important issues in this final essay.

    The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.

    —Albert Einstein

    In 2001, I published “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” a two-part article that explained these terms as a way of understanding the deep differences between the young people of today and many of their elders (Prensky 2001a, 2001b). Although many have found the terms useful, as we move further into the 21st century, into an age in which most people will be Digital Natives, the distinction between Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants is becoming less relevant. Clearly, we need to imagine a new set of distinctions helpful to those who are trying to help create and improve the future. I suggest we think in terms of digital wisdom.

    Digital technology, I believe, can be used to make us not just smarter, but truly wiser. Digital wisdom is a two-fold concept, referring both to wisdom arising from the use of digital technology to access cognitive power beyond our usual capacity and to wisdom in the use of technology to enhance our innate capabilities. Because of technology, wisdom seekers, in the future, will have the previously unknown benefit of access to instant and ongoing world-wide discussions, all of recorded history, everything ever written, including massive libraries of case studies and data (ethical and otherwise) and years (or even centuries) of highly realistic, simulated experience. How, and how much, they make use of these resources, and how they filter through them (also with the aid of technology) will certainly have an important role in determining the wisdom of their decisions and judgments. Technology alone will not replace an intuitive sense of what's important, good judgment and problem-solving ability, and a clear moral compass. But, in an unimaginably complex future, the unenhanced person, however wise, will no longer be able to keep up with an enhanced human. That, I think, is the real reason to introduce technology into our educational system—in the future our young people won't have the necessary competitive wisdom without it.

    Given that the brain is now generally accepted to be massively plastic, responding, changing, and adapting to the inputs it receives, it is even possible that the brains of people receiving all these inputs on a constant basis—i.e., searchers for wisdom—will be organized and structured differently in some ways from the brains of today's wise people. No one, of course, knows this for certain, but neuroscience is rapidly overturning previously accepted truths (such as the unchanging brain) at every turn. In the future, being considered “wise” may not be possible without the cognitive enhancements offered by increasingly sophisticated digital technology. Not that today's level of wisdom will not be possible—it may just not be desirable or sufficient in a technologically advanced world.

    Digital Extensions and Enhancements

    We are all moving, by fits and starts and each at our own speed, toward digital enhancement. In many ways, we are already there; digital enhancement is or will soon be available for just about everything we do. And this includes—here is the important part—cognition. Digital tools already extend and enhance our cognitive capabilities in a large variety of ways. Digital technology enhances memory, for example, via data input/output tools and electronic storage. Digital data-gathering and decision-making tools enhance judgment by allowing us to gather more data than we could on our own, helping us perform more complex analyses than we could unaided, and increasing our power to ask “what if?” and pursue all the implications of that question. Digital thought enhancement, provided by laptop computers, online databases, three-dimensional virtual simulations, online collaboration tools, PDAs, and a range of other, context-specific tools, is a reality in every profession, even in nontechnical fields such as law and the humanities.

    We are already becoming dependent on these enhancements. As philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers (1998) argue, “extended cognition is a core cognitive process, not an add-on extra,” as “the brain develops in a way that complements the external structures and learns to play its role within a unified, densely coupled system” (“3. Active Externalism,” ¶17). As I recently heard a teenager say, expressing this idea more colloquially, “If I lose my cell phone, I lose half my brain.” Many would express the same sentiment with regard to a PDA or a laptop computer; we are already embracing a basic level of digital enhancement, and we will accept ever more sophisticated enhancements as technology continues to develop.

    These technologies, which will give us more direct access to their power by linking to our brains directly, are already here or on the horizon. Two recently released devices, one produced by Smart Brain Technologies and another by Emotive Systems, allow players to control the action in video games using their minds; NeuroSky is working on another version of the technology. The U.S. Air Force is experimenting with using similar technology to train pilots in hands-off flying (Satnews Daily 2008). Other emerging digital tools, such as voice stress analysis tools and automated translation utilities, facilitate communication and enhance understanding by revealing deception or providing more unbiased translations. As these tools become widely available, digital enhancement will become even more vital for everyone.

    Digital Wisdom

    What should we call this emerging digitally enhanced person? Homo sapiens digital, or wise digital human, perhaps. The key to understanding this development is to recognize that it includes both the digital and the wise. Homo sapiens digital differs from today's human in two key aspects: He or she accepts digital enhancement as an integral fact of human existence, and he or she is digitally wise, a trait exhibited both in the considered use of enhancements to complement his or her innate abilities and in the way and degree to which he or she uses enhancements to facilitate wiser decision making.

    Wisdom, as any search will quickly show, is a universal, but ill-defined concept. Definitions of wisdom fill entire volumes. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that wisdom's main component is judgment, referring to the “capacity judging rightly in matters relating to life and conduct, soundness of judgment in the choice of means and ends” (OED 1989). Philosopher Robert Nozick (1990) suggests that wisdom lies in knowing what's important; other definitions see wisdom as the ability to solve problems—what Aristotle called “practical wisdom” (Wikipedia 2009). Some definitions—although not all—attribute to wisdom a moral component, finding wisdom in the ability to discern the “right” or “healthy” thing to do. This is, of course, problematic, since agreement on moral issues is frequently difficult to come by. So wisdom cannot be conclusively defined without consideration of context as well. One interesting definition of wisdom, particularly useful in this discussion, comes from Howard Gardner (2000), who suggests that wisdom may be seen in the breadth of issues considered in arriving at a judgment or decision. Putting all these together, wisdom seems to refer to the ability to find practical, contextually appropriate, creative, and emotionally satisfying solutions to problems (as Solomon famously did with the baby problem). Many see it as a better, more complex version of mere problem solving.

    As technology becomes increasingly more sophisticated, developing the capacity to help us make moral and ethical choices as well as more pragmatic decisions, what we call “human wisdom” will take on a new meaning. Some of that will come from the breadth of issues and resources the aspiring wise person can consider, as Gardner suggests. Another part will come from more, and deeper, experience, provided by hours of simulation, similar to what is required for today's airline pilots and astronauts. (The U.S. military is currently investigating ways to make its officers wiser faster in this way [source: private conversation].) It is also possible that reflection itself will be enhanced, as we are already seeing with the speed with which video game players review their previous games before they begin the next one. Future technological tools will allow people making judgments and decisions to review them in light of past experience, as today one can “backtest” a financial strategy on the historical market. And given the enhanced communications possibilities, wisdom will certainly involve a lot more sharing and testing of ideas while they are in formation.

    Digital wisdom transcends the generational divide defined by the Immigrant/Native distinction. Many Digital Immigrants are digitally wise. Barack Obama, who grew up in the pre-digital era, showed his digital wisdom in enlisting the power of the Internet to enhance both his fundraising ability and his connection to the American people. Understanding that his judgment is enhanced by his ability to get instant feedback from his closest friends and advisors, he has refused to give up his BlackBerry. Rupert Murdoch, a self-confessed Digital Immigrant (Murdoch 2005), has also shown digital wisdom in recognizing the need to add digital news gathering and dissemination tools to his media empire.

    The point is that while the need for wise people to discuss, define, compare, and evaluate perspectives isn't changing, the means that they use to do so, and the quality of their efforts, are growing more sophisticated because of digital technology. As a result, the unenhanced brain is well on its way to becoming insufficient for truly wise decision making. When we are all enhanced by implanted lie detectors, logic evaluators, executive function, and memory enhancements—all of which will likely arrive in our children's lifetimes—who among us will be considered wise? The advantage will go, almost certainly, to those who intelligently and prudently combine their innate capacities with their digital enhancements.

    Wisdom Enhancement

    So how can digital technology enhance our minds and lead to greater wisdom? One way to determine this is to ask where, as unenhanced humans, our mind now fails us, and explore how technology can enhance our capabilities in those arenas.

    Unenhanced humans are limited in their perceptions and constrained by the processing power and functioning of the human brain. As a result, we tend to go astray in our thinking in ways that limit our wisdom:

    • We make decisions based on only a portion of the available data.
    • We make assumptions, often inaccurate, about the thoughts or intentions of others.
    • We depend on educated guessing and verification (the traditional scientific method) to find new answers.
    • We are limited in our ability to predict the future and construct what-if scenarios.
    • We cannot deal well with complexity beyond a certain point.
    • We cannot see, hear, touch, feel, or smell beyond the range of our senses.
    • We find it difficult to hold multiple perspectives simultaneously.
    • We have difficulty separating emotional responses from rational conclusions.
    • We forget.

    Some of these failures arise because we do not have access to necessary data, while others stem from our inability to conduct complex analyses, derive full understanding from the ever-increasing volumes of data available to us, understand others fully, or access alternative perspectives. They all reduce our innate capacity to judge, evaluate, and make practical decisions wisely. Fortunately, available and emerging digital tools can allow us to overcome these deficiencies and attain true digital wisdom.

    Enhancing Our Access to Data

    The human mind cannot remember everything; detailed, voluminous data is quickly lost. In some ways, this is good, in that it forces us to be selective, but it also limits our analytical capacity. Digital technology can help by providing databases and algorithms that gather and process vast amounts of data far more efficiently and thoroughly than the human brain can. Expert systems are one example of sophisticated digital tools that can help humans access a wider array of data. These systems gather the expertise of hundreds of human experts in one program to provide a more thorough assessment of a given situation than even a highly trained and experienced professional might be able to. One example of such a system is the Acute Physiology & Chronic Health Evaluation (APACHE) system, which helps doctors allocate scarce intensive-care resources to those patients most in need (see “Note: The APACHE System” below).

    Few would consider it wise to use an expert system such as APACHE as the only decision maker; expert system technology is both imperfect and still in development. But would it be wise for a human to make the decisions without it? Wise decisions often involve not just ethical considerations, but also tradeoffs; in the context of a complex, delicate decision, like the one to remove a patient from intensive care, those tradeoffs can be difficult to assess. Expert systems and other sophisticated analytical tools allow for a fuller understanding of the risks and benefits inherent in a decision.

    Enhancing Our Ability to Conduct Deeper Analyses

    In an article provocatively titled “The End of Theory,” writer Chris Anderson (2008) describes how the massive amounts of data now being collected and stored by Google and others are allowing a new type of scientific analysis. In many cases, scientists no longer have to make educated guesses, construct hypotheses and models, and test them with data-based experiments and examples. Instead, they can mine the complete set of data for patterns that reveal effects, producing scientific conclusions without the need to experiment further, because they rely on analysis of a complete, digitally stored data set. In a similar way, Google's advertising tools draw valid and useful conclusions about what works in advertising without actually knowing anything either about what is advertised or about the consumers of the advertising. The software does these things based purely on sophisticated analyses of available data; the analyses improve as the amount of data increases (as it does exponentially), and the analysis tools improve as well. This is the same principle, according to Anderson, that allows Google to “translate languages without actually ‘knowing' them (given equal corpus data, Google can translate Klingon into Farsi as easily as it can translate French into German)” (2008, ¶5). Here, too, the tools will improve as more data becomes available. Imagine what will happen when the entire universe of everything ever written is available for analysis.

    This approach reverses the generally accepted nature of the human/machine coupling—rather than the mind imagining possibilities that the data confirms or denies, the data announce facts and relationships and the human either looks for explanations, or—as Google does with advertising—uses the relationships to achieve success without knowing or caring why they exist. Surely, such ability should lead us to question what wisdom is in such situations, and the relationship between mind and machine in producing wisdom in a digital future. Future wisdom will involve as much finesse in eliciting relationships as in imagining them.

    On the other hand, there are areas where a human mind's ability to interpret and evaluate data will be crucial to attaining digital wisdom. From warfare to architecture to politics, asking “what if?” has always been critical to understanding complex systems, and human wisdom has always included the ability to what-if well. While simulation, practiced for thousands of years in sandbox, mechanical, and thought experiments, is a sophisticated way to explore possible interpretations of data, unenhanced humans are limited in the number of options, intermediate states, and end states that they can explore in this way. Pairing human intelligence with digital simulation allows the mind to progress further and faster. The human ability to interpret and evaluate the models underlying the simulations plays a large role in using them wisely. In the future, more sophisticated simulation algorithms will allow humans to exercise their imaginative capacity in ever-more complex what-if constructions, allowing for more thorough exploration of possibilities and wiser decisions. With the introduction of modern simulation games such as Sim City, Roller Coaster Tycoon, and Spore, this kind of digital wisdom enhancement already begins at a very early age.

    Enhancing Our Ability to Plan and Prioritize

    As the world becomes more complex, planning and prioritization far beyond the capability of the unenhanced human brain will be required; digital enhancements will be needed to help us to anticipate second- and third-order effects that the unaided mind may be blind to. The full implications of massive undertakings like human space travel, the construction of artificial cities in the Arabian Sea, the building of huge machines such as large hadron colliders, and complex financial dealings (such as those that have recently wrought havoc on the economy) cannot be competently perceived and assessed by even the wisest unaided minds. Alan Greenspan, for example, is widely considered one of our wisest financial gurus; and yet, his assessment of the fundamental workings of our economy was mistaken: “You know,” he admitted in a congressional hearing in October 2008, “that's precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going more than 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working considerably well” (Leonhardt 2008). Humans will require digital enhancement in order to achieve a full understanding of these increasingly complex issues—and a full sense of the practical wisdom of pursuing them. We currently do not have, in many areas, either the databases of past successes and failures, or the tools to analyze them, that are required to enhance our wisdom and collective memory—but we will going forward.

    Enhancing Our Insight into Others

    One of the greatest barriers to human understanding and communication is that we cannot see inside another person's mind. This limitation gives rise to unintended misunderstandings and allows people to employ all sorts of deceptive strategies, both consciously and unconsciously. Some of the ways digital technology is helping us overcome this barrier include various means of truth (or lie) detection, multimodal communications, and digital readouts of our own and others' brain waves. Already, researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), using digital computer analysis of brain patterns captured by fMRI scans, are able to tell what a person is thinking about (Mitchell et al. 2008). It is likely, according to these researchers, that our children will see in their lifetimes the ability to read people's thoughts, and even direct brain-to-brain communication. While this will clearly raise ethical issues and privacy questions that will have to be addressed, there can be little doubt that as people gain access to and learn to take into account others' unspoken motives, thoughts, needs, and judgments in their own thinking, their wisdom will increase.

    Enhancing Our Access to Alternative Perspectives

    The world is full of things we cannot perceive unenhanced, things that are too small, too large, too fast, too abstract, too dangerous, or outside the range of our unaided senses. Exploring these things through digital enhancements will certainly help expand both our understanding of these things and our knowledge about how they can help or hurt us. It will also expand our ability to assume multiple perspectives—to see things from more than one point of view—and, hence, our wisdom. Perception of things outside our normal range can be enhanced digitally in numerous ways, from manipulable three-dimensional simulations to digitally monitored biofeedback to control of our mental and sensory states, which may also enhance memory and emotional control. Alternative perspectives can also be gained through increasingly sophisticated digital role playing, using simulations which take people through large numbers of difficult and critical situations from partisan and observers' points of view.

    There are, undoubtedly, other ways in which digital technology will, in our own or our children's lives, enhance our understanding and wisdom. None of these tools will replace the human mind; rather, they will enhance our quest for knowledge and our development of wisdom.

    Objections to Digital Enhancement

    Not everyone accepts the power of digital enhancement to make us both smarter and wiser. On its July/August 2008 cover, The Atlantic magazine asks “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Google is a stand-in for the Internet and digital technology more generally. The author's concern is that digital enhancements such as the Internet make our natural minds lazier and less able (Carr 2008). While that is certainly something we should guard against, we must also bear in mind that new technologies have always raised similar objections; as Carr points out, in Plato's Phaedrus, Socrates objects to writing on the basis that it undermines the memory.

    In fact, what's happening now is very much the opposite: digital technology is making us smarter. Steven Johnson has documented this in Everything Bad Is Good for You (2005), in which he argues that the new technologies associated with contemporary popular culture, from video games to the Internet to television and film, make far more cognitive demands on us than did past forms, increasing our capabilities in a wide variety of cognitive tasks. As Johnson puts it, “Today's popular culture may not be showing us the righteous path. But it is making us smarter” (14). Socrates was correct in his fear that writing would diminish our memories, but shortsighted in that concern. While we may remember less and memorize less readily than did humans in Socrates's day, the addition of writing has made us considerably wiser by expanding our collective memory as well as our ability to share information across time and distance.

    Worries that ubiquitous GPS systems might diminish our map-reading ability or that spell checkers and calculators will result in a generation that cannot spell or do mental math are similarly shortsighted. Every enhancement comes with a tradeoff: we gave up huge mental memory banks when we started writing things down; we gave up the ability to tell time by the sun when we began carrying pocket watches. But we gained a set of shared cultural memories and a more precise notion of time that fueled the industrial revolution. Digital wisdom arises from the combination of the mind and digital tools; what the unenhanced mind loses by outsourcing mundane tasks will be more than made up for by the wisdom gained. Wisdom, particularly practical wisdom, must be understood in light of the digital enhancements that make it stronger.

    Being Digitally Wise

    So what makes a digitally wise person? What habits do the digitally wise use to advance their capabilities in this area and the capabilities of those around them for whom they may have authority or responsibility? Can digital wisdom be taught?

    Examples of digital wisdom are all around us. Leaders are digitally wise when they use available techniques to connect with their constituents for polling, contributions, and participation, as Barack Obama did so well in the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign. Journalists are digitally wise when they take advantage of participative technologies such as blogs and wikis to enlarge their perspectives and those of their audience. Nicolas Carr, for example, the author of the Google article referenced above, posted his notes and sources in his blog in response to reader requests for more information (available at

    Digital wisdom can be, and must be, learned and taught. As we offer more courses in digital literacy, we should also offer students guidance in developing digital wisdom. Parents and educators are digitally wise when they recognize this and prepare the children in their care for the future. Educators are digitally wise when they let students learn by using new technologies, putting themselves in the role of guides, context providers, and quality controllers. And parents are digitally wise when, recognizing the extent to which the future will be mediated by technology, they encourage their children to use digital technology wisely.

    The digitally wise distinguish between digital wisdom, mere digital literacy, and digital cleverness, and they do their best to eradicate digital dumbness when it arises. They know that just knowing how to use particular technologies makes one no wiser than just knowing how to read words. Digital wisdom means not just manipulating technology easily, or even creatively; it means making wiser decisions because one is enhanced by technology. Therefore, the digitally wise look for the cases where technology enhances thinking and understanding. No digitally wise leader would make any major decision, no digitally wise scientist would come to any conclusion, without digital tools enhancing their own thinking. They may rely on intuition, but that intuition is informed, inspired, and supported by digital enhancements and by the additional data digital tools provide. Those who are truly digitally wise do not resist their digitally enhanced selves, but accept them gladly.

    Being digitally wise involves not only enhancing our natural capabilities with existing technologies, but also continuously identifying additional areas where our natural human tools—even when they are developed to a very high level—cannot do the job unaided. As new digital tools appear, especially ones that take hold in a strong way, the digitally wise seek them out actively. They investigate and evaluate the positives as well as the negatives of new tools and figure out how to strike the balance that turns tools into wisdom enhancers. The digitally wise also realize that the ability to control digital technology, to bend it to their needs, is a key skill in the digital age. So they are interested in programming, in the broadest sense of making machines do what people want them to.


    In the lifetimes of our children, much more powerful digital mental enhancements—the embedded chips and brain manipulations of science fiction—will become a reality, just as gene manipulation, long considered a far-off dream, is with us now. Just as we have begun to confront the ethical, moral, and scientific challenges presented by genetic medicine, we will have to confront the issue of digital wisdom sooner or later, and we will be better off doing it sooner. Many of these enhancements will bring ethical dilemmas, but the digitally wise will distinguish between true ethical issues (Is the enhancement safe? Is it available equally to all?) and mere preferences and prejudices.

    Nobody suggests that people should stop using and improving their unaided minds. But I am opposed to those who claim the unenhanced mind and unaided thinking are somehow superior to the enhanced mind. To claim this is to deny all of human progress, from the advent of writing to the printing press to the Internet. Thinking and wisdom have become, in our age, a symbiosis of the human brain and its digital enhancements.

    I do not think technology is wise in itself (although some day it may be) or that human thinking is no longer necessary or important. It is from the interaction of the human mind and digital technology that the digitally wise person is coming to be. I believe it is time for the emerging digitally wise among us, youth and adults alike, to refuse to be intimidated by the unenhanced. With our eyes wide open to enhancement's potential harm as well as its benefits, let us bring our colleagues, students, teachers, parents, and peers to the digital wisdom of the 21st century.

    Note: The APACHE System

    The Acute Physiology & Chronic Health Evaluation (APACHE) system was created by medical researchers and doctors seeking a better way to determine, when beds became scarce, which patients should be retained in a hospital's intensive care unit. The system worked by comparing key statistics for a particular patient with millions of cases with similar characteristics to project likely outcomes. The system capsulized its analysis into a number for each patient, the APACHE score. A higher score meant that the patient stayed in intensive care; a lower score meant the patient left.

    It seems startling that a single, computer-generated number could even be considered useful in making such a potentially life-and-death decision, even more so that it could carry as much weight as a doctor's personal evaluation. The reasoning behind this is that there are some things the human brain is very good at, but by nature it tends to over-focus on two things: the recent and the unusual. While that sometimes serves us very well, it is much better, for a decision like this, to take into account every relevant case. That is something that, in an unaided state, the human mind is just not capable of doing.

    The point is not that machines are better than the human mind. The point is that the mind and the machine together produce the wisest decisions. As one study puts it “[APACHE III] has been shown to be predictive of in-hospital mortality rate. It has performed equally well in community based and academic settings. [But] the APACHE, like other scoring systems presents some limitations. It is dependent on an operator and requires a long period of training to be used efficiently.”[P. Murabito, F. Ribulotta, and A. Gullo, “Quality Management in the ICU: Understanding the Process and Improving the Art.” In Anaesthesia Pain, Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, A. Gullo, ed. Proceedings of the 22nd post graduate course in critical care medicine, Venice-Mestre Italy, November 9–11, 2007 (Springer, 2008), Chapter 33, p. 349.]

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    Prensky, M.2001b. Digital natives, digital immigrants, part 2: Do they really think differently?On the Horizon9 (6): 1–6.,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part2.htm (accessed January 28, 2009). Archived at
    Satnews Daily. 2008. Hands off F-16 lands using Lockheed Martin computer control technology. Satnews Daily, December 11. (accessed January 28, 2009). Archived at
    Wikipedia. 2009. Wisdom. (accessed January 26, 2009). Archived at

    Final Note

    You can read my further thoughts on the topics discussed here (and on many other topics) on my website,, and in my forthcoming books:

    Brain Gain: Technology and the Quest for Digital Wisdom from Palgrave Macmillan


    Problem-Solving, Passion, and Producing the Right Stuff (tentative title) from Corwin.


    Marc Prensky


    Part 1. Rethinking Education
    • The Reformers Are Leaving Our Schools in the 20th Century

      Originally published January 24, 2011, in SNS Newsletter. Copyright by Marc Prensky.

    • On Learning

      Originally published in 2003 in On the Horizon, 11(1), 26–32. Copyright by Marc Prensky.

    • Education as Rocket Science

      Originally published in 2009 in Educational Technology Magazine, 49(6), 64, where Marc's column, “New Issues, New Answers,” appears regularly. Copyright by Marc Prensky.

    • Turning On the Lights

      Originally published March 2008 in Educational Leadership, 65(6), 40–45. Copyright by Marc Prensky.

    • Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants

      Part I:

      Originally published in 2001 in On the Horizon, 9(5), 1–6. Copyright by Emerald Group Publishing. Reproduced with permission.

      Part II:

      Originally published in 2001 in On the Horizon, 9(6), 1–6. Copyright by Emerald Group Publishing. Reproduced with permission.

    • The Emerging Online Life of the Digital Native

      Copyright 2004 by Marc Prensky.

    • Young Minds, Fast Times

      Originally published May 30, 2010, in Edutopia. Copyright by Edutopia. org; The George Lucas Foundation.

    • Blame Our Young? Or Use Their Passion!

      Copyright 2010 by Marc Prensky.

    • To Educate, We Must Listen

      Copyright 2007 by Marc Prensky.

    • Bringing the Future to School: The Prensky Challenge

      Copyright 2006 by Marc Prensky.

    • Open Letter to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

      Copyright 2006 by Marc Prensky.

    Part 2. 21st Century Learning, and Technology in the Classroom
    • The Role of Technology in Teaching and the Classroom

      Originally published Nov-Dec 2008 in Educational Technology Magazine, where Marc's column, “New Issues, New Answers,” appears regularly. Copyright by Marc Prensky.

    • Backup Education?

      Originally published in Jan-Feb 2008 in Educational Technology Magazine, 48(1), where Marc's column, “New Issues, New Answers,” appears regularly. Copyright by Marc Prensky.

    • Simple Changes in Current Practices May Save Our Schools

      Originally published July 12, 2010, in ETC Online Journal. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

    • The Longer View: Why YouTube Matters

      Originally published in 2010 in On the Horizon, 18(2). Copyright by Emerald Group Publishing. Reproduced with permission.

    • Beyond the Lemonade Stand

      Originally published in Don't Bother Me Mom—I'm Learning, by M. Prensky, 2006, St. Paul, MN: Paragon House. Copyright by Paragon House. Reproduced with permission.

    • Types of Learning and Possible Game Styles

      Originally published in Digital Game-Based Learning, by M. Prensky, 2007, St. Paul, MN: Paragon House. Copyright by Paragon House. Reproduced with permission.

    • On Being Disrespected

      Originally published October 2006 in Educational Leadership, 64(2). Copyright by Marc Prensky.

    • Let's Be “Digital Multipliers”

      Originally published Jan-Feb 2009 in Educational Technology Magazine, where Marc's column, “New Issues, New Answers,” appears regularly. Copyright by Marc Prensky.

    • Search Versus Research

      Copyright 2005 by Marc Prensky.

    • Simulation Nation

      Originally published August 1, 2007, in Edutopia. Copyright by Edutopia. org; The George Lucas Foundation.

    • What Can You Learn From a Cell Phone? Almost Anything!

      This article was originally published in Innovate ( as: Prensky, M. 2005. What can you learn from a cell phone? Almost anything!. Innovate 1(5). (accessed April 24, 2008). The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher, The Fischler School of Education and Human Services at Nova Southeastern University.

    • The True 21st Century Literacy Is Programming

      Originally published January 13, 2008, in Edutopia. Copyright by; The George Lucas Foundation.

    Epilogue: From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom

    This article was originally published in Innovate ( as: Prensky, M. 2009. H. sapiens digital: From digital immigrants and digital natives to digital wisdom. Innovate 5(3). (accessed February 4, 2009). The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher, The Fischler School of Education and Human Services at Nova Southeastern University.

    Corwin: A Sage Company

    The Corwin logo—a raven striding across an open book—represents the union of courage and learning. Corwin is committed to improving education for all learners by publishing books and other professional development resources for those serving the field of PreK–12 education. By providing practical, hands-on materials, Corwin continues to carry out the promise of its motto: “Helping Educators Do Their Work Better.”

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