Tech

What Is the Digital Divide?

Considering the need for broader access to technology

The digital divide defines the inequality between those who have access to modern communication technologies (mobile phones, the Internet, etc.) and those who do not. In this article, we’ll discuss what the digital divide is and its global impact.

What is the Digital Divide? Why is it important?

The exact definition of the digital divide has evolved with the advancement of technology. For example, the segment that was once used to indicate the availability of cell phone towers is now defined by access to high-speed Internet access. Lack of internet access means limited access to education, employment opportunities, medical information and social communities.

The digital divide spans both developed and developing countries, but it also exists within the country between urban and rural areas. Globally, there is a digital gap between men and women, young and old, rich and poor, and educated and non-educated.

Digital divide example

Traditional face-to-face education has been disrupted around the world as classrooms have been virtualized while the coronavirus pandemic has stopped. As a result, students who do not have access to the Internet are left behind. At the start of the pandemic in 2020, approximately 16 million kindergarten to high school students in the United States had no access to internet-enabled devices. Students in southern states, especially those of color and low-income families, are less likely to have reliable Internet access than their classmates.

These inequality can have devastating consequences throughout life. The United Nations estimates that the closure of schools could cost a total of $ 17 trillion to current generation of students.People also rely heavily on the Internet to schedule medical appointments, so being on the other side of the digital divide can lead to poor health.

The digital divide in the United States is shrinking due to falling prices for electronics, but nearly a quarter of adults with household incomes less than $ 30,000 a year do not yet own a smartphone, and about 40% stay at home. I don’t have a computer or broadband service. ..

Cause of the digital divide

Communication technology limitations include inadequate infrastructure, availability of affordable personal electronic devices (smartphones, laptops, etc.), and the training required to use these devices. Teens who start using computers in elementary school (or earlier) are more likely to have the skills to surf the Internet than those who have never grown up on the Internet.

Another reason for the digital divide is the lack of public investment in infrastructure. In many parts of the world, people have internet-enabled devices, but no internet connection. Most of the cables used for international internet communication are laid underwater to the bottom of the sea, so good internet access is usually available in large sea-facing countries.

The poorest countries in the south are also less likely to have access to the internet. For example, in 2020, only about 40% of Africans had access to the Web, compared to the world average of 65%.Compared to rural residents, more than 70% of residents in cities around the world have internet access at home, less than 40%.

Digital divide results

The internet was once considered a luxury. But creating wealth in today’s world requires internet access and digital literacy. Companies without an online presence cannot compete in the global economy. People on the other side of the division are clearly at a financial disadvantage as more and more jobs require computer skills.

The digital divide exacerbates existing social inequality, such as the income gap between women and men. People with severe mental illness are likely not able to afford the internet, which can lead to social isolation and mental health problems, especially during a pandemic quarantine.

The digital divide is not just a concern for the poorest countries. All nations will benefit from a better connected world. According to one study, a 10% increase in broadband access in the United States will create 875,000 new jobs and bring additional economic benefits of $ 186 billion. Estimating these numbers around the world, eliminating the digital divide could add trillions of dollars to global GDP.

Bridging the Digital Divide

Equal access to the web is an important part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The United Nations encourages countries to work together to invest in communications infrastructure and digital literacy programs. Innovations in the private sector, such as Starlink (Starlink provides local Internet coverage over satellites), are also critical to breaking the digital divide.

For example, the United States recently passed infrastructure investment and employment laws. The law allocates $ 65 billion to provide high-speed Internet to rural and low-income Americans. There are similar programs in the state. Texas, Alabama and Oklahoma have provided laptops and internet access to over 1 million students.

Another important issue is net neutrality, the concept that everyone needs to access the Web without restrictions or censorship. For example, a net neutrality policy prevents Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from creating high-speed lanes for a particular business. Net neutrality legislation is needed to ensure fair access at the national level.

FAQ

  • What is the intergenerational digital divide?

    Both young and old generations have a high level of technology experience and may experience the digital divide. Young people who grew up on the Internet have a high level of digital literacy. They can use and communicate with all kinds of techniques. Those who are new to technology later may need more guidance to become accustomed to technology.

  • What is the relationship between the digital divide and the knowledge gap hypothesis?

    The digital divide can contribute to or be part of the knowledge gap. The theory of lack of information suggests that wealthy people can quickly access information from a variety of media. People with low financial resources may not have the skills to find this information. This lack of access also means that the development of digital literacy can be overlooked.


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What Is the Digital Divide?

Examining the need for broader access to technology

The digital divide describes the disparity between populations with access to modern communications technologies (cellphones, the internet, etc.) and those without access. This article explains what the digital divide is and its global consequences.

What Is the Digital Divide and Why Is It Important?

The exact definition of the digital divide has evolved alongside technological advancements. For example, the divide used to refer primarily to the availability of cellphone towers, but now the divide is defined by access to high-speed internet access. Lack of internet access means limited access to education, job opportunities, medical information, and social communities.

The digital divide spans developed and developing nations, but it also exists between urban and rural areas within countries. Globally, there are digital divides between men and women, the young and the old, the wealthy and the poor, and the educated and less educated.

Digital Divide Examples

During the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, traditional in-person educational instruction was suspended worldwide as classrooms went virtual. Consequently, students without internet access were left behind. In 2020, at the pandemic’s start, about 16 million K-12 students in the U.S. didn’t have access to an internet-enabled device. 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 UN estimates that school closures could collectively cost $17 trillion in lost lifetime earnings for the current generation of students.People also rely heavily on the internet to set up medical appoints, so being on the wrong side of the digital divide can lead to poorer health outcomes.

Although the digital divide in the U.S. has narrowed as electronics have dropped in price, nearly a quarter of adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year still don’t own a smartphone, and about 40% do not have a computer or home broadband services.

Causes of the Digital Divide

Limitations to communications technology include inadequate infrastructure, the availability of affordable personal electronics (smartphones, laptops, etc.), and the education necessary to use those devices. Young people who started using computers in elementary school (or earlier) are more likely to possess the skills needed to navigate the internet than someone who didn’t grow up with the internet.

Another reason for the digital divide is the lack of government investment in infrastructure. In many parts of the world, people have internet-enabled devices, but there’s no internet connection available. Most of the cables for international internet communication are laid underwater on the ocean floor, so larger countries with ocean borders typically have superior internet access.

Poorer nations in the global south are also less likely to have internet access. For example, in 2020, only about 40% of Africans could access the web compared to the 65% global average.More than 70% of urban dwellers worldwide have home internet access compared to people in rural areas with less than 40% with internet access.

Consequences of the Digital Divide

The internet was once considered a luxury; however, internet access and digital literacy are necessary for building wealth in today’s world. Businesses without an online presence can’t compete in the global economy. An increasing number of jobs require computer skills, so those on the wrong side of the divide are at a distinct economic disadvantage.

The digital divide exacerbates existing social inequalities, such as the income gap between women and men. People with severe mental illness are less likely to have the tools to use the web, which can also result in social isolation and mental health challenges, especially during pandemic lockdowns.

The digital divide isn’t just a concern for poorer nations. All nations would benefit from a better-connected world. One study suggests that just a 10% increase in broadband access in the U.S. would result in 875,000 new jobs and $186 billion in additional economic output. If we extrapolate those numbers worldwide, closing the digital divide could add trillions of dollars to the global GDP.

Closing the Digital Divide

Equal access to the web is a critical element of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The U.N. recommends that countries collaborate to invest in communications infrastructure and digital literacy programs. Private sector innovations like Starlink (Starlink provides internet coverage to rural areas via satellites) could also be pivotal in narrowing the digital gap.

For example, the United States recently passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which allocates $65 billion to bring high-speed internet to rural and low-income Americans. States have implemented similar programs. Texas, Alabama, and Oklahoma have provided laptops and internet access for over one million students.

Another vital issue is Net Neutrality or the concept that everyone should have access to the web with no restrictions or censorship. For example, Net Neutrality policies prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from creating fast lanes for certain companies. Net Neutrality legislation will be essential to ensuring fair access at the national level.

FAQ

What is a generational digital divide?
Younger and older generations may experience a digital divide based on experience level with technology. Young people who grew up with the internet have a high level of digital literacy. They can use and communicate through all kinds of technology. People learning technology later in life might need more guidance to become comfortable with it.

How are the digital divide and the knowledge gap hypothesis related?
The digital divide can add to or be a part of the knowledge gap. The knowledge gap theory suggests that wealthier people have more immediate access to information from various media. People with fewer financial resources might not have the technology to find this information. This lack of access also means potentially missing out on the chance to develop digital literacy. 

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