The Digital Divide & What It Means To Us
According to whatis.com, the Digital divide is a term that refers to the gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern information and communications technology, and those that don’t or have restricted access. This technology can include the telephone, television, personal computers and the Internet.
The following is an excerpt from an online article published by Aliza Sherman in 2011, entitled, “How cities are fighting to close the Digital Divide”. Sherman does an excellent job of summarizing the main reasons as to why it is important to bridge this digital divide.
Why is closing the digital divide so important? The access issues are often broken down into a handful of parts:
Equality: The Internet is considered as important — if not more important — as access to the telephone. With more and more career, business, civic and social welfare information uploaded to websites, online databases and even social networks, the very people who need this information may be the ones without access to it.
Education: With the vast research and information resources available on the Internet, the prevalent use of distance learning and the fundamental computer and Internet skills that are gained by having online access, those without are at a distinct disadvantage.
Democracy: As more of our political discourse takes place online — online voting already occurs in some areas — those without access are essentially silenced.
Economy: Access to information technologies and other consumers via Internet connections is critical to the growth of commerce and transactional exchanges. The digital divide creates a vicious cycle: Those without economic means cannot access the Internet to take part in — and benefit from — these economic activities.
Some things we can do to bridge the digital divide would be to support organizations such as Close the Gap. Close the Gap is an international non-profit organisation that aims to bridge the digital divide by offering high-quality, pre-owned computers donated by large and medium-sized corporations or public organisations to educational, medical, entrepreneurial and social projects in developing and emerging countries.
The following excerpt is from page 10 of Eszter Hargittai’s book entitled, “The Digital Divide and What to Do About It.” http://www.eszter.com/research/pubs/hargittai-digitaldivide.pdf
Some scholars have suggested ways in which we need to distinguish between different types of Internet use. One such approach (Norris 2001) suggests distinguishing between divides at three levels: the global divide which encompasses differences among industrialized and lesser developed nations; the social divide which points to inequalities among the population within one nation; and a democratic divide which refers to the differences among those who do and do not use digital technologies to engage and participate in public life. Wilson (2000) took this classification a step further by identifying four components of full social access: i) financial access which indicates whether users (individuals or whole communities) can afford connectivity; ii) cognitive access which considers whether people are trained to use the medium, and find and evaluate the type of information for which they are looking; iii) production of content access which looks at whether there is enough material available that suits users’ needs; and iv) political access which takes into account whether users have access to the institutions that regulate the technologies they are using. Warschauer (2002) has also offered an alternative approach suggesting that in addition to the physical sides of access, other factors such as content, language, literacy, education and institutional structures must also be taken into consideration when assessing the level of information and communication technology use in a community.
These researchers call for a more refined approach to the “digital divide”. A more comprehensive understanding of digital inequality is necessary if we are to avoid increasing inequalities among different segments of the population due to disparities in effective access to all that the Internet has to offer.
Hargittai, Eszter, “The Digital Divide, and What to Do About It.” Chapter to be published in “New Economy Handbook” edited by Derek C. Jones. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. 2003.
Sherman, Aliza. “How Cities Are Fighting to Close the Digital Divide.” April 20, 2011. Mashable.com