The expression "digital divide" refers to the existing gap between those who can use new digital technologies and those who can't. This is a key issue of today's society, since it also provokes a distinction between those who can access certain information and those who are unable to do so.
Image credit: MIT Media Lab's $100 Laptop for Third World Children
Some experts and researchers consider the digital divide to be merely an economic problem that affects poor countries; although the greatest part of these technologies is manufactured in developing countries, those ones who can afford them lack the necessary literacy and knowledge of how to use them.
However, identifying the problem exclusively in the economic condition would result inappropriate: the digital divide expresses itself also in the impossibility to use digital technologies within a considerable percentage of the industrialized countries population. This means that even when people can afford buying a computer or a mobile phone, they are not automatically capable of using it.
Another aspect of the digital divide issue is the one that addresses empowerment, which is the ability to fully use the opportunities provided by digital technologies; even if those technologies were accessible and very easy to use, many people would still not be able to take full advantage of their potential.
How can this phenomenon be reduced?
Here I review the three aspects we must take in consideration when analyzing the digital divide, along with its possible solutions.
First aspect: economy
The lack of opportunities for business and the low level of economic progress that characterizes most of the developing countries is certainly the primary reason of the digital divide. The governments of poor countries challenge themselves with more pressing concerns, such as food, health care and security, rather than technological improvements.
As a result, the population of these countries does not reach higher levels of education and is not provided with the knowledge that is necessary to utilize them. On March 14th 2005 the United Nations launched the Digital Solidarity Fund to finance projects that deal with "the distribution and use of new information and communication technologies" and "enable excluded people and countries to enter the new era of the information society".
A very interesting article published by The Economist points out that the digital divide is not a problem in itself, but a symptom of deeper, more important gaps: of income, development and literacy. The author of the article says: "The debate over the digital divide seems to be founded on the belief that bringing the internet to the poor countries will help them to become rich rapidly. "
On the other hand, the diffusion of mobile phones might represent an important growth opportunity for developing countries and here is the reason: the benefits of mobile phone technologies lay on the fact that mobile devices do not need a permanent electricity supply and can be used by people who can neither read nor write.
New researches found out that mobile phones raise long-term growth rates and their impact is twice as big in developing nations as in developed ones. The real digital divide, then, is between those with access to a mobile network and those without. The UN has set a minimum goal of 50% access to mobile networks to be reached in developing countries by 2015, but a more recent report from the World Bank notes that 77% of the world's population already lives within range of a mobile network.
In areas like North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia's advanced countries, computer cost is no longer an issue, let alone the cost of mobile phones. The cheapest computer on the market costs less than $400. While it's true that a few people can't even afford $400, computers prices decrease almost every year and mobile prices decrease even faster.
It is worth mentioning the so called "One laptop per child" project, which aims at distributing flexible, ultra low-cost and power-efficient laptops to young individuals that live in developing countries. The computer will cost $100 and will be equipped with all the necessary devices to connect to the internet.
Second aspect: usability
Digital technologies are still far from being "simple" and "easy to use" for many people. This issue is valid both for educated and uneducated people and is transversal to any geographical locations. Many people would still be unable to use a computer even if they got it for free.
The level of literacy skills among the owners of a computer is very low: only 40%. Additionally, only few websites follow the guidelines for writing for low-literacy users and many institutional sites aimed at poorer citizens usually adopt a very complicated language.
Lower literacy, however, is different than illiteracy: people with lower literacy can read, but they encounter difficulties doing so. The most remarkable difference between lower- and higher-literacy users is that lower-literacy users can't understand a text by glancing at it. They must read word for word and often spend considerable time trying to understand multi-syllabic words.
Senior users face the second-biggest accessibility problem, but again there is little interest in the guidelines for making websites easier for older users.
Third aspect: empowerment
Most of the people who use digital technologies are still devoted to a limited use of their capabilities and are not yet ready to make a step forward. Sometimes, users utilize them inappropriately or incompletely: a good example is the one related to web search engines.
People don't understand the use of advanced search features or don't know exactly which keywords to enter. Many of them uncritically select the search results and are unaware of the fact that search engines prioritize certain items because they are advertisements.
Another interesting issue that helps the digital divide grow is the so called "participation inequality", which refers to the fact that in online communities and social networks that rely on users, most users don't participate at all and prefer to stay in the background.
Because they lack the initiative and skills to participate and contribute to the growth of online communities, some users remain at the mercy of other people's decisions. For instance, people sometimes accept the default home page chosen by their computer vendor or ISP (search engines pay very well for that), rather than select one that suits to their needs.
The limited accessibility of digital technologies - also known as "digital divide" - is a problem that characterizes both developed and under-developed countries. In the industrialized areas of the world digital technologies are cheap, but there is still a great percentage of people that is unable to fully unveil their potential. On the other hand, developing countries are limited in their access to digital technologies both by economic and educational issues (although the largest part of digital technologies available nowadays are built in developing countries).
The digital divide must then be fought on at least two battlefields: economy and education. Regarding the possibility to allow more people to be able to afford a computer or a mobile phone, a good accomplishment is represented by the fact that the cost of digital technologies lowers year after year. The UN are currently helping eliminating the digital divide in developing countries by promoting international initiatives, and also private institutions are contributing with ideas such as the "One Laptop Per Child" project.
On the other hand, there is still a lot to do to make sure everyone can properly use digital technologies; for example, the Internet - which is the expression of the new media world - is still not completely accessible and interactive to most of its users. Starting with web design, a big accomplishment would represent a more distributed adoption of the W3C accessibility guidelines, let alone the use of a writing style that is based on simple grammar and makes content easily searchable and readable.
The major issue, however, remains the lack of education that influences many people and does not allow them to access certain information sources that are only reachable via digital technologies. In this case, the progressive spread of mobile phones and the expansion of mobile networks (as stated in a recent report by Word Bank) might certainly represent a significant improvement in the lives of all those individuals whose access to the digital era is still denied.
Read more on the Digital Divide
- The Digital Divide Network
- Digital Divide on Wikipedia
- Digital Divide: Ushering in the Second Digital Revolution
- Reconceptualizing the Digital Divide
- The real digital divide
- The Digital Divide and the Global South
- Bridging the Digital Divide: Internet access in Central and Eastern Europe
- The digital divide: Ignore it at our own risk
- Tool Kit for Bridging the Digital Divide in Your Community provided by the U.S. Department of Education
African boy: The Economist
Senior PC users: Lisa F. Young
Power button: Christophe Testi
Key in hand: Tyler Olson
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What are some solutions to the digital divide? ›
- Affordable, robust broadband internet service.
- Internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user.
- Access to digital literacy training.
- Quality technical support.
- Applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration.
The consequences of the digital divide include isolation, which can affect mental health, educational barriers as postsecondary education increasingly moves online, and worsening gender discrimination.What is the digital divide and how do you think it should be dealt with? ›
The digital divide is a gap created between different demographics of people in their ability to understand, access and effectively use technology. This inequality in ability can be due to a variety of factors, including age, country of origin or residence, exposure to technology, available income, and motivation.What is the digital divide and why is it important? ›
The term 'digital divide' is used to cover a broad range of social differences in access to and use of digital equipment and services, most notably personal com- puters, and the ability to access the internet in terms of both physical connection and facility of use.How can students help the digital divide? ›
“Establish a permanent broadband benefit, increase access to affordable computers, digital literacy and technical support, improve broadband mapping (including residential cost data), and support local and state digital inclusion planning.” By implementing these changes, Siefer says, policymakers can start to mitigate ...How would you improve your digital and online habits? ›
- Schedule how much time you will allot for your online activities. ...
- Set times for when to read your emails. ...
- Reduce your online to-do list. ...
- Take regular breaks. ...
- Do the more difficult tasks before lunchtime. ...
- Make digital decluttering a habit.
Many have linked the digital divide to poor economic and social outcomes, such as fewer job opportunities, less competitive economies, or lower student performance, showing how it exacerbates existing inequalities along racial and other social lines.What is digital divide with example? ›
Digital Divide Examples
Students in southern states, particularly students of color and those from low-income families, are less likely to have reliable internet access than their peers. These disparities can have devastating life-long consequences.
The digital divide is not just a policy or infrastructure issue. It is a social justice matter in that lack of access disproportionately affects people of color, low-income individuals and families, and those who live in rural areas, the authors wrote, and at the intersection of all of those are Native communities.Why is it important to close the digital divide? ›
Policies to close the digital divide have to reduce social and digital inequality simultaneously. The current Covid-19 pandemic reinforces both existing social inequalities and digital inequality.
Which of the following actions is most likely to help reduce the digital divide? ›
Which of the following actions is most likely to help reduce the digital divide? Adding a requirement that all users of a popular social media site link their accounts with a phone number.How does digital divide in some parts of the world limit the success of globalization? ›
The global digital divide also contributes to the inequality of access to goods and services available through technology. Computers and the Internet provide users with improved education, which can lead to higher wages; the people living in nations with limited access are therefore disadvantaged.What is the most effective way to reduce the digital divide in society? ›
- 1) Increase affordability. ...
- 2) Empowering users. ...
- 3) Improve the relevance of online content. ...
- 4) Internet infrastructure development. ...
- 5) Address gender gap in internet access.
Barrier to studies and knowledge
The coronavirus crisis has shown the effects of the digital divide in education: teachers and students out of the loop because they lack sufficient technology and digital skills. It also increases lack of knowledge by limiting access to knowledge.
Why is the digital self so important for your career? The simple reason is that once you go online as your real self, using your own name or appearance, you have an online presence that can be traced back to you in the real world.How will you manage your digital self? ›
Simply Googling yourself and setting up a Google alert for variations of your name are the first steps toward managing yourself digital self and ensuring that you are aware of what is being published about you online. Even if you grew up as a digital native, this habit does not come easily, but it is important.How do we help ourselves in making a positive digital self? ›
- Be diverse. Being active on many different social-media platforms will spread your exposure. ...
- Be creative. Social media allow you to showcase your creativity. ...
- Be articulate. ...
- Be friendly and social. ...
- Be yourself.
As digital exclusion is often caused by poverty, strategies to tackle the digital divide must align with and reinforce wider work to improve lo income households' financial resilience and include a strong focus on increasing access to affordable broadband connections and devices.How do I stop my digital addiction? ›
- Turn off push notifications. ...
- Schedule times to check your phone, or at least be mindful about it. ...
- Use a timer to block your usage. ...
- Replace smartphone use with something you value. ...
- Don't take your phone to bed. ...
- Set expectations around email response times.
Which of the following actions is most likely to help reduce the digital divide? Adding a requirement that all users of a popular social media site link their accounts with a phone number.
Is it possible to bridge the global digital divide? ›
Bridging the digital divide is a problem that requires solutions for accessibility, affordability, and digital skills that touch social economics, infrastructure, and technology.How does digital divide affect people's lives? ›
Many have linked the digital divide to poor economic and social outcomes, such as fewer job opportunities, less competitive economies, or lower student performance, showing how it exacerbates existing inequalities along racial and other social lines.Who is affected by the digital divide? ›
Inequality in access to the Internet and ICT is known as the digital divide and affects 52 % of women and 42 % of men worldwide.What causes digital divide? ›
Causes and Examples of the Digital Divide
Factors such as low literacy and income levels, geographical restrictions, lack of motivation to use technology, lack of physical access to technology, and digital illiteracy contribute to the digital divide.
- Self-Control: Block out distracting websites for a set amount of time. ...
- Concentrate: Maximize focus while shifting between different tasks. ...
- FocusBooster: Focus on single tasks for 25 minutes apiece. ...
- Think: Limit your attention to a single application at a time.
Effects Of An Internet Addiction
Body aches, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, insomnia, vision problems, and weight gain/loss are just some of the physical problems one may suffer as a result of an internet addiction. Emotional effects may include depression, dishonesty, anxiety, social isolation, aggression, and mood swings.
Technology addictions can have a severe impact on one's mental health, exacerbating or contributing to anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as other disorders. Technology addiction also can lead to restlessness, irritability, agitation, and anger.Why is it important to close the digital divide? ›
Policies to close the digital divide have to reduce social and digital inequality simultaneously. The current Covid-19 pandemic reinforces both existing social inequalities and digital inequality.What development has helped to narrow the digital divide? ›
What development has helped to narrow the digital divide? by the rising accessibility of simple smartphones, laptops and tablets.Why is digital access important? ›
Why is digital access important? Digital access is becoming increasingly important in the 21st century. Not having access to digital technologies can have significant social and economic consequences for both the individual and society as a whole.
How will you help in bridging the digital divide? ›
- Permit unlicensed use of white space.
- Adopt a “dig once” mentality.
- Develop local content. One of the most consistent ideas to emerge during this week's meeting was that simply providing technical tools for Internet access isn't sufficient.
Bridging this divide can give everyone the opportunity to lead a fuller life and be prepared for the future of work. The good news is that the public and private sectors are already working hard to accomplish this goal.