The digital divide is the gap between those with regular, effective access to digital technologies and those without.
The digital divide is related to social inclusion and equality of opportunity. It is seen as a social/political problem and has become increasingly relevant as the industrialized nations have become more dependent on digital technologies in their democratic and economic processes. Larry Irving, a former United States Assistant Secretary of Commerce and technology adviser to the Clinton Administration, made the term digital divide popular in a series of reports in the mid 1990's. The digital divide results from the socio-economic differences between communities that in turn affects their access to digital information mainly but not exclusively through the Internet. Broadly speaking, the difference is not necessarily determined by the size or depth of the user group. Any digital media that different segments of society can use, can become the subject of a digital divide.
With regard to the Internet, ease of access is a fundamental aspect, but it is not the sole factor. Effective access also depends on ability to use ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) effectively, and on the quality of digital content that is available and can be provided. The quality of connection, auxiliary services and other factors that affect effective use are also important (Davison and Cotten, 2003). Access can be through a range of devices (MSN TV, Webphone, PDA, mobile phone), and each provides a different level of support. Once an appropriate level of access is achieved, the individual then requires an education that includes literacy and technological skills to make effective use of it. From this point on, participation becomes possible because of the wealth of usable information that becomes available coupled with the equally important capacity to provide information to others.
The digital divide is often discussed in an international context because of the widely varying social and economic conditions in different countries. The concept of a digital divide has resonance with views that the revolutionary power of the Internet and the emerging utopian information society is also subject to a downside but this has to be balanced by the evidence of rapidly increased take up of the Internet in the developing world.
Another key dimension of the Digital Divide is the global digital divide, reflecting existing economic divisions in the world. This global digital divide widens the gap in economic divisions around the world. Countries with a wide availabilty of internet access can advance the economics of that country on a local and global scale. In today's society, jobs and education are directly related to the internet. In countries where the internet and other technologies are not accessible, education is suffering, and uneducated people cannot compete in our global economy. This leads to poor countries suffering greater economic downfall and richer countries advancing their education and economy.
There are a variety of arguments about why closing the digital divide is important. The major arguments are as follows:
- Economic equality: Some think that access to the Internet is a basic component of civil life that some developed countries aim to guarantee for their citizens. Telephone service is often considered important for the reasons of security. Health, criminal, and other types of emergencies may indeed be handled better if the person in trouble has access to a telephone. Also important seems to be the fact that much vital information for education, career, civic life, safety, etc. is increasingly provided via the Internet, especially on the web. Even social welfare services are sometimes administered and offered electronically.
- Social mobility: If computers and computer networks play an increasingly important role in continued learning and career advancement, then education should integrate technology in a meaningful way to better prepare students. Without such offerings, the existing digital divide disfavors children of lower socio-economic status, particularly in light of research showing that schools serving these students in the USA usually utilize technology for remediation and skills drilling due to poor performance on standardized tests rather than for more imaginative and educationally demanding applications.
- Social equality: As education integrate technology, Societies such as in the developing world should also integrate technology to improve the girl-child life. This will reduce the gender inequalities. Access to information through internet and other communication tools will improve her life chances and enable her to compete globally with her Contemporaries even in the comfort of her rural settings.
- Democracy: Use of the Internet has implications for democracy. This varies from simple abilities to search and access government information to more ambitious visions of increased public participation in elections and decision making processes. Direct participation (Athenian democracy) is sometimes referred to in this context as a model.
- Economic growth: The development of information infrastructure and active use of it is inextricably linked to economic growth. Information technologies in general tend to be associated with productivity improvements even though this can be debateable in some circumstances. The exploitation of the latest technologies is widely believed to be a source of competitive advantage and the technology industries themselves provide economic benefits to the usually highly educated populations that support them. The broad goal of developing the information economy involves some form of policies addressing the digital divide in many countries with an increasingly greater portion of the domestic labor force working in information industries.
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