The Digital Divide

Posted 12 Jan 2002 at 09:11 UTC by nymia Share This

"The information revolution has brought rapid transformation in the economies of many industrialized countries, and sweeping promises of a better quality of life for all. However, people living in the vast majority of other countries have been left untouched and unimpressed by this 'revolution' and its promises, since it has failed to improve their lives." [ 1 ]
Within the boundaries of these countries, the promise of having access to internet resources have been mostly to the ones who have the means. What has been considered a technical tool for technical people are now considered necessary resource. With all the information stored, be they scientific, economic or political in content, access to these resources must be provided at all levels.

One may ask: "What the heck does it have to do with me? Why should I be aware of it?"
What Is The Digital Divide?

A good definition of the Digital Divide is best described in terms of access to electronic resources. There is a good definition of it and is shown below.
Simply put, "the digital divide" means that between countries and between different groups of people within countries, there is a wide division between those who have real access to information and communications technology and are using it effectively, and those who don't. [ 2 ]
Basically, access to electronic resources start with having electronic devices. And these devices can either be personal or community owned, depending on location. Most often, these devices are personally owned by mostly those who are financially capable. Leaving the others to either go for shared or completely just forget it.

Global Perspective

When the internet exploded in the 90's. The internet became one of the primary source of information access. From its acceptance, a lot of people from all walks of life started building information structures on top of it. As a result, with all the information that were built, devices used to access these information were elevated to the level of a 'must have.'

With all these constructions, more and more people went and browsed the internet. A quick information below show how many people connect to the internet.
There are an estimated 429 million people online globally, but even this staggering number is small when considered in context. For example, of those 429 million, fully 41% are in North America. Also, 429 million represents only 6% of the world's entire population. Other facts:

  • The United States has more computers than the rest of the world combined
When assessed by region, Internet use is dominated by North Americans:

  • 41% of the global online population is in the United States & Canada
  • 27% of the online population lives in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (25% of European Homes are online)
  • 20% of the online population logs on from Asia Pacific (33% of all Asian Homes are online)
  • Only 4% of the world's online population are in South America

[ 3 ]

Who's Not Online

Not everybody went and browsed the Net though. There were people, those who were be considered not impressed or found it useful. And there were those who simply didn't have the necessary means of getting access. Results from a study shown below reveal interesting numbers.

The majority of adults without Internet access say they are likely to stay away from the Internet. A third of non-users (32%) say they definitely will not get Internet access. Another 25% of non-Internet users say they probably will not venture online. Specifically, Pew found:
  • Half the adults in America do not have Internet access and 57% of those are not interested in going online.
  • 32% of those without Internet access now say they definitely will not get Internet access. That comes to about 31 million Americans.
  • Another 25% of non-Internet users say they probably will not venture online.
  • 12% of those without Internet access say that they definitely will go online.
  • 29% of non-Internet users say they probably will get Internet access.
  • In contrast a substantial majority of those under 30 who say they plan to get access, seniors who are not online show little inclination of going online. The expense of going online still looms as a major issue for them.
[4]
There are several facts that can lifted from it and one of it was the issue of cost of going online. It is clear though that access to the internet means an electronic device connected to the Web will incur some cost. If cost is the primary determinant, a resulting class structure will mostly like form around it, those who can and those who cannot, called the less fortunates.
To be on the less fortunate side of the divide means that there is less opportunity to take part in our new information-based economy, in which many more jobs will be related to computers. It also means that there is less opportunity to take part in the education, training, shopping, entertainment and communications opportunities that are available on line. Now that a large number of Americans regularly use the Internet to conduct daily activities, people who lack access to those tools are at a growing disadvantage.[ 5 ]

While Americans are becoming increasingly connected, there are still significant discrepancies in access: Blacks and Hispanics, for example, are less connected anywhere than Whites are at home. Those groups with lower access rates at work or home are much more likely to use the Internet at a public place such as a school, library, or community center. They are also more likely to use the Internet to take courses or to conduct job searches than other groups. [ 7 ]

Filling The Gap

Fortunately, there are people and institutions who are commited in the resolving the Digital Divide issue. As of today, there are a number of organizations already working on narrowing the gap. One of the organizations, named DDN contains necessary information about it.

In this period of intense research and development (R&D) in the Internet industry, and as content migrates to various information devices, now is the time to develop the tools and guidelines that will make it easier for everyone to use the Internet. History has shown that striving to make technologies accessible to specific constituencies leads to advances that benefit everyone. [6]

And there is of course, the President of the United States, who is very concerned about the current situation. Encouraging all sectors concerned to look into it and work up a way of addressing the issues.

Imagine if computers and Internet connections were as common in every community as telephones are today; if all teachers had the skills to open students' eyes and minds to the possibilities of new technologies; if every small business in every rural town could join worldwide markets once reserved for the most powerful corporations -- just imagine what America could be. [ 8 ]

Today is the opening of this national call to action. More than 400 organizations already have signed the pledge, and this is just the beginning. For the rest of the year we will try to inspire hundreds, indeed, thousands, more to sign up. We will work with Congress, across party lines, to build support for budget and legislative initiatives to meet these goals. And you heard Senator Mikulski outline some of them. We have to be willing at the national level to do our part. This is a worthy, federal investment. [ 8 ]

We do that when we help young people; when we help seniors in rural America get medical advice over the Internet; when we create tools that allow people with disabilities to open new doors of possibility. We give our neighbors a chance to participate in this astonishing American renaissance, we have done something that would have made Dr. King proud. And the new technology of the digital age gives us a chance to do it for more people, more quickly, more profoundly, than at any time in human history. It's up to us to seize that opportunity. [ 8 ]
The Bridge Called Linux

Addressing the issue means coming up with several solutions needed to close the gap. One of them is to look for ways that would have the following effects on hardware, software and peopleware cost:
  • Shift the cost away from the consumer.
  • Lower the cost making it affordable.
  • Minimize parts to near zero cost.
  • Subsidize the cost.
  • Use parts having zero cost.
With respect to locating parts with lowered cost on software. There is one candidate the would evenly fit the requirement. As of this writing, there are several OS are out there having those properties, but there is only one having a large developer base and community scattered around the globe that can act as support contacts. The name is called GNU/Linux.

Since the solution would require a large area of implementation with a range of users dominated by simple and ordinary t

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