Digital divide is a term used to refer to social and economic differences that exist within a given population due to varying levels of access to information and communication technology (Ragnedda & Muschert 2013). The term is used variably depending on the population or geographical region under study. For example, there is a digital divide in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other developed countries. The term can also be used to compare the level of access to technology between developed and undeveloped countries. In such cases, the term “global digital divide” is used. When considering the digital divide in a certain country, various social economic levels and demographic factors are considered. There is always a digital gap between countries, continents, and residents of individual nations around the globe (Norris 2001).
In each of these cases, the digital divide influences the lives of people in various ways. The digital divide exists because of several factors that include income disparities, poverty, economic constraints, and unavailability of knowledge regarding the accessibility, utilisation, and receptiveness of information and communication technology (Ragnedda & Muschert 2013). The digital divide affects society by increasing the gap between the rich and the poor, widening the gap between old and young generations, augmenting language barrier problems, influencing accessibility to quality education, and derailing social and economic development.
The digital divide is responsible for a myriad of problems experienced in countries that lack access to technology. According to Ragnedda & Muschert (2013), only about 7 percent of the world’s population had access to the internet in the year 2003. The main regions of the world that enjoy great access to ICT include America, Europe, and Australia. Regions with restricted or no access to technology include Africa and Asia. The main reason for lack of access to technology is the huge start up cost required to invest in technology (Ragnedda & Muschert 2013). In developing countries, only rich people or financially able individuals access technology.
The digital divide acts as an economic and social disadvantage to poor countries because they cannot compete effectively at a global level with developed countries. Inability to access technology means that many schools and institutions of learning lack ways of utilizing large stores of information that can only be accessed using technology. With the current rate of globalisation, knowledge in information and communication technology is important because it equips individuals with skills to compete internationally (Ragnedda & Muschert 2013).
Developed countries benefit from their people’s ability to access and use technology because it facilitates training and education. Highly trained individuals are an important component of economic and social growth. People with access to technology can conduct e-commerce and e-business and can thus easily access global markets (Galácz & Smahel 2007). Moreover, businesses located in countries and regions with highly developed technologies experience high rates of growth compared to businesses that operate in technology deficient countries or regions.
One of the effects of the digital divide is language barrier. The internet is the most widely used technology across the world. In order to access information on the internet, it is important for users to understand the languages used to present information. Access to information is problematic to many people because of the limited number of languages that are used to present information on the World Wide Web. Many sites present information in English. This makes it difficult for people in developing countries to access it because many of them do not use English but native languages. In certain countries, the largest proportion of the population uses native languages. Research has shown that in certain countries of Asia and Africa, many people are not English-literate and cannot therefore use the internet (Galácz & Smahel 2007).
No websites provide information using native languages. Lack of internet access in these counties is the main reason for the lack of websites that provide information in native languages. This situation is projected to continue until ICT resources are made available to countries without them.
Another effect of the digital divide on society is the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor. The digital divide is both global and regional. Therefore, access to different technologies depends on the financial abilities of individuals. For instance, some people can afford high-speed internet while others can afford low-speed internet. On the other hand, only a few can afford technologically advanced gadgets. Rich people can afford internet connections and advanced technologies that improve their lives and businesses in many ways (Norris 2001). Conversely, poor members of society can afford neither technological gadgets like computers nor internet access.
Therefore, they do not enjoy the innumerable benefits of technology. Rich people use technology to improve the quality of their lives and generate more income from their business because technology improves operations and increases the efficiency of employees (Norris 2001). Only people who can afford technology are able to enjoy the benefits of e-commerce and e-business. The same effect is evident by comparing developed and undeveloped countries. Developed countries utilize technology to foster economic and social development because many people have access to technology (Galácz & Smahel 2007).
In developing countries, access to technology is limited to financially able people. Therefore, it does not have a greater effect with regard to economic growth as compared to developed countries. The technology industry is very lucrative and forms an important part of the economies of many countries. Through development of software and other technological applications, people earn great incomes that improve their financial wellbeing and grow the economies of their countries. People in developing countries cannot enjoy such benefits because of limited access to technology.
The digital divide has also widened the gap between the young and the old generation (Paul & Stegbauer 2005). In the last decade, internet users have increased significantly. Internet users mainly comprise young people who enjoy the efficiency and effectiveness that technology provides in education, socialisation, communication, and business. Many businesses are also moving their operations online in order to offer their services to more people in different parts of the world. In other cases, certain businesses only offer their services online. Such businesses include social networking sites and digital money transfer services. Research conducted in 2007 revealed that only a few people among the old generation use the internet. In 2007, America had 34.5 million people who were over the age of 65 (Wakefield 2010).
However, only 34% of this population used the internet. The research also revealed that 89 percent of individuals between the ages of 18 and 28 used the internet. 86 percent of people between the ages of 29 and 40 also used the internet for various purposes (Wakefield 2010). These findings validated the argument that the digital divide widens the gap between the young and old generations. Majority of people in the old generation do not use the internet because of the fear of technology and the lack of IT skills that are needed in order to use certain technologies (Paul & Stegbauer 2005).
Today, many people have shifted to social networking sites as their favourite mode of interaction and communication. The increasing popularity of sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Instagram has contributed to the decline of human contact in communication (Wakefield 2010). This has led to the alienation of the older generation because many of its members cannot use certain technologies that are the major platform for communication and interaction (Wakefield 2010).
The digital divide derails the economic and social development of countries that lack access to technology (Galácz & Smahel 2007). Developed countries can access technology while developing countries have limited or no access to technology. Lack of access to technology deprives these countries the opportunity to interact with other nations and learn. Technology equips individuals with educational, social, and economic empowerment, which are important for the development of society. People who cannot access technology live low quality lives compared to people who can access technology. Lack of access to technology affects the development of social and economic infrastructures that are important for economic growth (DiMaggio & Hargittai 2001).
For instance, disparities in communication and education qualities in different countries are responsible for the wide social and economic gap between different countries. Technology is an important aspect of education in contemporary society. People with access to technology get high quality education and thus improve their social and economic positions in society. The digital divide also affects social mobility significantly because in contemporary society, technology is important for human development (DiMaggio & Hargittai 2001). Varied access to technology is responsible for uneven access to opportunities that are only available people with access to technology.
The digital divide has adverse effects on the quality of education in countries that have limited or no access to technology. Schools in developed countries incorporate technology in their teaching programmes that allow students interact with students from other parts of the world and conduct research from online databases (Norris 2001). These students acquire skills and experience that are required for career success in contemporary society. In addition, they acquire computer skills that are imperative for success in higher education. This gives them an advantage over students that lack access to technology. Technology also makes it easier for students with disabilities to learn effectively (Norris 2001).
Students from schools in poor countries do not enjoy these benefits. Online education is a concept that was introduced due to advancement in technology. Students can learn at their own pace and during their appropriate time (DiMaggio & Hargittai 2001). In addition, online education allows working people to pursue higher education without quitting their jobs. These opportunities are only available to people who have access to technology. Very few people in developing countries can undertake online education because of cost implications and lack of access to technology. Inequalities in the quality of education offered by different schools create a gap that affects the social and economic standing of the people (Norris 2001).
It is imperative to bridge the digital divide in order to create a society in which people can access similar opportunities in different parts of the world. Another effect of the digital divide is the inability of some people to undertake self-education. The internet is awash with free resources that are important for self-education. Many international institutions offer free courses that can improve the education levels of many people. However, lack of access to technology prevents many people from taking such courses.
In conclusion, the digital divide affects society is many ways. Digital divide is a term that refers to social and economic disparities among people and countries, which result from limited or lack of access to information and communication technology. Technology is an important aspect of life in contemporary society. However, some people do not enjoy its benefits because of lack of access. Digital divide affects society by increasing the gap between the rich and the poor, widening the gap between generations, augmenting language barrier problems, globalisation, and affecting social and economic development.
Developed countries benefit from the ability to access technology because technology facilitates training and education. Highly trained individuals are an important aspect of economic and social growth. Rich people can afford internet connections and advanced technologies that improve their lives and businesses. Conversely, poor members of society can afford neither technology gadgets nor internet access. This disparity in access to technology widens the gap between the rich and the poor. Moreover, it widens the gap between the young and old generations. The digital divide derails the economic and social development of countries that do not have access to technology.
Technology equips individuals with educational, social, and economic empowerment. These are important for the development of society. People in countries that lack access to technology do not enjoy the educational, social, and economic benefits of technology. Finally, the digital divide affects the quality of education and the availability of opportunities in the labour market for different people. People in schools without access to technology have limited access because of limited learning resources and lack of computer skills that are important for many jobs in the job market. It is imperative to bridge the digital divide in order to create an even and harmonious society in which people have unlimited access to opportunities across the world.
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