Digital divide

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The digital divide refers to the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels with regard both to their opportunities to access information and communications technologies (ICT’s) and to their use of the Internet for a wide variety of activities.[1] It includes the imbalance both in physical access to technology and the resources and skills needed to effectively participate as a digital citizen. Knowledge divide reflects the access of various social groupings to information and knowledge, typically gender, income, race, and by location.[2] The term global digital divide refers to differences in access between countries in regards to the internet and its means of information flow.

Origins of the term
Initially referring to the gap in ownership of computers between certain ethnic groups,[3][4] the term came into usage in the mid-1990s), appearing in several news articles and political speeches.[5] President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore both used the term in a 1996 speech in Knoxville, Tennessee.[6] Larry Irving, a former United States head of the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Administration (NTIA) at the Department of Commerce, Assistant Secretary of Commerce and technology adviser to the Clinton Administration, noted that a series of NTIA surveys[7][8][9][10] were “catalysts for the popularity, ubiquity, and redefinition” of the term, and he used the term in a series of later reports.[5] During the George W. Bush Administration, the NTIA reports[11][12] tended to focus less on the availability of the necessary hardware, more on Internet access, broadband in particular, and the disparity of access between the developed and developing worlds.

In 1998 it became the title of a National Telecommunications and Information Administration survey.[13]

In 2000, the authors Donna Hoffman, Thomas Novak, and Ann E. Schlosser credited Lloyd Morrisett, the former president of the Markle Foundation, for applying the term to the information “haves” and “have-nots.[13]

Current usage
There are several definitions of the term. Bharat Mehra defines it simply as the troubling gap between those who use computers and the Internet and those who do not.[14]

More recently, some have used the term to refer to gaps in broadband network access.[4] The term can mean not only unequal access to computer hardware, but also inequalities between groups of people in the ability to use information technology fully.[15]

Given the range of criteria used to assess the various technological disparities between groups/nations, and lack of data on some aspects of usage, the exact nature of the digital divide is both contextual and debatable. Lisa Servon argued in 2002 that the digital divide is a symptom of a larger and more complex problem — that of persistent poverty and inequality.[16] Mehra (2004), identifies socioeconomic status, income, educational level, and race among other factors associated with technological attainment, or the potential of the Internet to improve everyday life for those on the margins of society and to achieve greater social equity and empowerment.[14]

The conclusion from the various existing definitions of the digital divide is that the nature of the divide, and the question if it is closing or widening, depends on the particular definition chosen. Based on the theory of the diffusion of innovations through social networks, a common framework can be set up to distinguish the main approaches researchers have taken to conceptualize the digital divide. All kinds of studies and approaches to the digital divide can be classified into these four categories:[17]

* WHO (level of analysis): individuals vs. organizations/communities, vs. societies/countries/ world regions;
* with WHICH characteristics (attributes of nodes and ties): income, education, geography, age, gender, or type of ownership, size, profitability, sector, etc.;
* connects HOW (level digital sophistication): access vs. usage vs. impact;
* to WHAT (type of technology): phone, Internet, computer, digital TV, etc.

The chosen definition of the digital divide has far-reaching consequences with immediate practical relevance, and should therefore not be seen as a yet another intellectual quarrel of sole academic interest.


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