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|The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (November 2011)|
A digital divide is an inequality between groups, broadly construed, in terms of access to, use of, or knowledge of information and communication technologies (ICT). The divide inside countries (such as the digital divide in the United States) can refer to inequalities between individuals, households, businesses, and geographic areas at different socioeconomic and other demographic levels, while the Global digital divide designates countries as the units of analysis and examines the divide between developing and developed countries on an international scale.
In coveted research, while each explanation is examined, the others should be controlled for in order to eliminate interaction effects or mediating variables, but these explanations are meant to stand as general trends, not direct causes. Each of the above listed items can be looked at from different angles, which leads to a myriad of ways to look at (or define) the digital divide. For example, measurements for the intensity of usage, such as incidence and frequency, vary by study. Some report usage as access to Internet and ICTs while others report usage as having previously connected to the Internet. Some studies focus on specific technologies, others on a combination (such as Infostate, proposed by Orbicom-UNESCO, the Digital Opportunity Index, or ITU's ICT Development Index). Based on these differences, there are hundreds of alternatives ways to define the digital divide.
Research suggests a multitude of explanations for the digital divide including, but not limited to: education, income, age, skills, awareness, race, ethnic origin, location, and gender (which is contested as being a confounding variable); political and cultural access; and psychological attitudes to Internet access and usage. Income levels and educational attainment are identified as having the largest explanatory power to explain ICT access and usage, with age being a third important variable, which means that prototypical "victims" to the digital divide can be foremost characterized as poorer, less educated, and older.
The infrastructure by which individuals, households, businesses, and communities connect to the Internet address the physical mediums that people use to connect to the Internet such as desktop computers, laptops, cell phones, iPods or other MP3 players, Xboxes or PlayStations, electronic books readers, and tablets such as iPads.
Internet connectivity can be utilized at a variety of locations such as homes, offices, schools, libraries, public spaces, Internet cafes, etc. There are also varying levels of connectivity in rural, suburban, and urban areas.
An individual must be able to connect in order to achieve enhancement of social and cultural capital and achieve mass economic gains in productivity. Therefore access is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for overcoming the digital divide. Access to ICT meets significant challenges that stem from income restrictions. The borderline between ICT as a necessity good and ICT as a luxury good is roughly around the “magical number” of US$10 per person per month, or US$120 per year, which means that people consider ICT expenditure of US$120 per year as a basic necessity. Since more than 40% of the world population lives on less than US$ 2 per day, and around 20% live on less than US$ 1 per day (or less than US$ 365 per year), these income segments would have to spend one third of their income on ICT (120/365 = 33%), which is a lot to ask, since the global average of ICT spending is at a mere 3% of income. Potential solutions include driving down the costs or ICT, which includes low cost technologies and shared access through Telecentres.
Furthermore, even though individuals might be capable of accessing the Internet, many are thwarted by barriers to entry such as a lack of means to infrastructure or the inability to comprehend the information that the Internet provides. Lack of adequate infrastructure and lack of knowledge are two major obstacles that impede mass connectivity. These barriers limit individuals' capabilities in what they can do and what they can achieve in accessing technology. Some individuals have the ability to connect, but have nonfunctioning capabilities in that they do not have the knowledge to use what information ICTs and Internet technologies provide them. This leads to a focus on capabilities and skills, as well as awareness to move from mere access to effective usage of ICT.
The United Nations is aiming to raise awareness of the divide by way of the World Information Society Day which has taken place yearly since May 17, 2001. It also set up the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Task Force in November 2001.
Community Informatics (CI) provides a somewhat different approach to addressing the digital divide by focusing on issues of "use" rather than simply "access". CI is concerned with ensuring the opportunity not only for ICT access at the community level but also, according to Michael Gurstein, that the means for the "effective use" of ICTs for community betterment and empowerment are available. Gurstein has also extended the discussion of the digital divide to include issues around access to and the use of "open data" and coined the term "data divide" to refer to this issue area.
Once an individual is connected, Internet connectivity and ICTs can enhance their future social and cultural capital. Social capital is acquired through repeated interactions with other individuals or groups of individuals. Connecting to the Internet creates another set of means by which to achieve repeated interactions. ICTs and Internet connectivity enable repeated interactions through access to social networks, chat rooms, and gaming sites. Once an individual has access to connectivity, obtains infrastructure by which to connect, and can understand and use the information that ICTs and connectivity provide, that individual is capable of becoming a "digital citizen".
The second-level digital divide, also referred to as the production gap, describes the gap that separates the consumers of content on the internet from the producers of content. As the technological digital divide is decreasing between those with access to the internet and those without, the meaning of the term digital divide is evolving. Previously, digital divide research has focused on accessibility to the internet and internet consumption. However, with more and more of the population with access to the internet, researchers are examining how people use the internet to create content and what impact socioeconomics are having on user behavior. New applications have made it possible for anyone with a computer and an internet connection to be a creator of content, yet the majority of user generated content available widely on the internet, like public blogs, is created by a small portion of the internet using population. Web 2.0 technologies like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Blogs enable users to participate online and create content without having to understand how the technology actually works, leading to an ever increasing digital divide between those who have the skills and understanding to interact more fully with the technology and those who are passive consumers of it. Many are only nominal content creators through the use of Web 2.0, like posting photos and status updates on Facebook, but not truly interacting with the technology. Some of the reasons for this production gap include material factors like what type of internet connection one has and the frequency of access to the internet. The more frequently a person has access to the internet and the faster the connection, the more opportunities they have to gain the technology skills and the more time they have to be creative. Other reasons include cultural factors often associated with class and socioeconomic status. Users of lower socioeconomic status are less likely to participate in content creation due to disadvantages in education and lack of the necessary free time for the work involved in blog or web site creation and maintenance.
Since gender, age, racial, income, and educational gaps in the digital divide have lessened compared to past levels, some researchers suggest that the digital divide is shifting from a gap in access and connectivity to ICTs to a knowledge divide. A knowledge divide concerning technology presents the possibility that the gap has moved beyond access and having the resources to connect to ICTs to interpreting and understanding information presented once connected.
|Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: Internet Governance|
|Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: Information and Communication Technologies for Poverty Alleviation|
|Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: The Information Age|