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What is the Digital Divide?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2016
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The digital divide refers to the gap between people who possess regular access to technology, (such as computers and their related functions like ability to get on the Internet), and those who do not have this access. The term originated in the 1990s and was much used in early days by the US President Clinton’s Administration to discuss what could be done about bridging this gap. There are many ways to look at or consider the digital divide. For people like President Clinton, the divide separated the “haves and have-nots” within the US. Other people evaluate how a perceived divide may affect countries, populations, or races.

Internet and computer use has undoubtedly increased in the United States and the digital divide may be smaller within certain populations. However, it remains a fact that poorer people may not be able to afford technology, and poorly funded schools aren’t always able to offer regular use of technology to their students. In contrast, students in middle class and upper class families, and in schools that have medium to excellent funding, may have technology at home and school. This gives them considerable advantages over those whose homes and schools don’t have the same offerings.

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Another point of concern in the US is the way access to technology may divide large minority groups from Caucasians. Smaller percentages of African American and Hispanic citizens regularly use or have access to information technology. Since there exists so much possible benefit of learning how to use computers and how to take advantage of web materials, one argument is that the digital divide keeps people in certain social groups poor and ignorant to a degree. The Reverend Jesse Jackson referred to it as an apartheid of sorts.

As significant as the digital divide may be in countries like the US or Canada, the differences between access to technology in these countries and in most developing nations is even more striking. Even heavily industrialized nations like China have far fewer people able to regularly use computers and access the Internet. Poorer nations are divided even more from richer nations in this respect, and many argue that the wealth of information available to poorer nations through the Internet could help improve lives and put an end to poverty.

To this end there are many charitable and government run organizations that help to shrink the digital divide by providing computers or funding to get computers to individuals or educational institutions. They may address the divide in a specific country that is developing too. However, this can be problematic. In countries with severe poverty, many feel that first efforts should go toward providing clean water, medical care and food as needed instead of giving people technology access. Moreover, in areas that don’t have electricity sources, digital materials can be relatively useless, and some argue trying to end the digital divide in extremely poor countries may not be possible until these countries achieve certain quality of living standards.

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anon306452
Post 6

It amazes me when someone, usually caucasian, doesn't realize how many people cannot afford computers, the internet, technology, and they stare in amazement and make statements of how easy it is to get technology. That frustrates me. At least half of the people I know, of varied races and usually in lower middle class, do not have computers. I'm lucky to have one.

write79
Post 3

I think this has become a very important issue. I have relatives that don't have a lot of money, and they can't afford internet service. They do have a computer, but it seems like there's not much you can do with it these days without the internet.

I've noticed that their kids are assigned school work that requires the use of the internet. They have to go to a friend's house or the library to do their work. It was this that really made me realize what a disadvantage kids without access to technology may be at.

upnorth31
Post 2

I've encountered the digital divide based on rural areas as opposed to highly populated ones. I have a cousin that used to live near me, which is a largely populated, suburban area. Not too long ago they moved to a different state, to a small town out in the country. When I asked her for her email address, she gave it to me, but said that they didn't have internet access where they moved to.

This was such a foreign idea to me! I didn't realize that there were still areas in the United States that didn't have internet access.

roxytalks
Post 1

Sometimes it amazes me just how important technology has become, and how accustomed people who have constant access to it are.

I am fortunate enough to have all of the technology that I need available to me. I take it for granted now that I can find any bit of information that interests me in seconds.

Thinking about the digital divide though has me thinking about the difference between having technology, like computers and the internet, and not having it. Not too long ago, we didn't have any of these things. And society survived and was just fine. Now, not having these same things proves to be a big disadvantage. It's interesting to really think about how much we have come to depend on something that we didn't even need before.

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