Digital divide

A digital divide is an economic and social inequality with regard to access to, use of, or impact of information and communication technologies (ICT).[1] The divide within countries (such as the digital divide in the United States) may refer to inequalities between individuals, households, businesses, or geographic areas, usually at different socioeconomic levels or other demographic categories. The divide between differing countries or regions of the world is referred to as the global digital divide,[1][2] examining this technological gap between developing and developed countries on an international scale.[3]

Definitions and usage

The term digital divide describes a gap in terms of access to and usage of information and communication technology. It was traditionally considered to be a question of having or not having access,[4] but with a global mobile phone penetration of over 95%,[5] it is becoming a relative inequality between those who have more and less bandwidth[6] and more or fewer skills.[7][8][9][10] Conceptualizations of the digital divide have been described as "who, with which characteristics, connects how to what":[11]

  • Who is the subject that connects: individuals, organizations, enterprises, schools, hospitals, countries, etc.
  • Which characteristics or attributes are distinguished to describe the divide: income, education, age, geographic location, motivation, reason not to use, etc.
  • How sophisticated is the usage: mere access, retrieval, interactivity, intensive and extensive in usage, innovative contributions, etc.
  • To what does the subject connect: fixed or mobile, Internet or telephone, digital TV, broadband, etc.[12]

Different authors focus on different aspects, which leads to a large variety of definitions of the digital divide. "For example, counting with only 3 different choices of subjects (individuals, organizations, or countries), each with 4 characteristics (age, wealth, geography, sector), distinguishing between 3 levels of digital adoption (access, actual usage and effective adoption), and 6 types of technologies (fixed phone, mobile... Internet...), already results in 3x4x3x6 = 216 different ways to define the digital divide. Each one of them seems equally reasonable and depends on the objective pursued by the analyst".[11] The "digital divide" is also referred to by a variety of other terms which have similar meanings, though may have a slightly different emphasis: digital inclusion,[13] digital participation,[14] basic digital skills,[15] media literacy [16] and digital accessibility.[17]

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance, a US-based nonprofit organization, has found the term "digital divide" to be problematic, since there are a multiplicity of divides. Instead, they chosen to use the term "digital inclusion", providing a definition: Digital Inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This includes 5 elements: 1) affordable, robust broadband internet service; 2) internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user; 3) access to digital literacy training; 4) quality technical support; and 5) applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration.[18]

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