NOT SUCH AN EQUAL WORLD: THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

“Hey, give me your user name so I can tweet you!”

“Do what?”

“Tweet you, you know, to send you short messages via the Internet.”

“But I don’t have Twitter. Actually, I don’t have Internet access.”

“What? How can you not have Internet access? Are you living in a cave or something?”

Although you might be quite familiar with this kind of conversation – maybe you yourself had the same reaction – but truth be told, we are not all connected to the Internet. It may come as a surprise to some, but there are lots of areas, countries and places in the world that are not at all or are, but insufficiently, connected to broadband-internet. And there is a word for this phenomenon: digital divide. The digital divide is a gap between societies with Internet access and those without.

According to Internet World Stats, there are four topics considered as the main aspects of the digital divide:

  • economic equality: people need access to the internet and essential information regarding topics like personal career, civic life and safety.
  • social mobility: knowledge of internet use plays an important role in terms of education and career. It helps forming the socioeconomic status of people.
  • democracy: people can participate in decision processes and elections by getting information via internet.
  • economic growth: less developed countries could gain a economic profit from the use of internet

As this issue touches so many aspects of our daily lives, there is a high interest regarding the topic. Many researchers, professors, communication and technology specialists are trying to analyze and come up with suggestions to diminish this gap.  For example, the ITU – International Telecommunication Committee is an agency of the United Nations, founded in 1865. Its goal is to “improve access to ICTs to underserved communities worldwide” (ITU 2014). They have members from no less than 193 countries from all around the world which organize events such as the World Telecommunication Development Conference 2014, but also workshops and seminars on the subject. And even more, they publish studies on radio- and telecommunication, but also internet-connection.

The following graph, made by AKAMAI (the network responsible for serving around 30% of all web traffic in the world) shows up-to-date statistics of the net usage around the world.

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And here is another graph showing the worldwide usage of mobiles in order to connect to the Internet.

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You may ask yourself what are the main factors that cause this divide and influence the access to Internet. Among many others, some of the most important are: geography, accessibility, infrastructure, education, cultural differences, intellectual property, age, race, language, income and disability. In order to make some kind of a change, researchers and organizations need to address these factors separately.

One program that focuses on the aforementioned disability issue is the Web Accessibility Initiative launched by The World Wide Web Consortium. This programs tries to make  suggestions on how to technically approve the Internet for disabled people. W3C is an international community led and developed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (the founder of the World Wide Web) and tries to set up guidelines for web development in order to create a “web for all”, which means to make the “benefits available to all people, whatever their hardware, software, network infrastructure, native language, culture, geographical location, or physical or mental ability”.

When Daniel T. Norris talks about digital divide in his book “New directions for Adult and Continuing Education”, he states that “The digital divide is leaving millions disenfranchised from the opportunity to use technology to change their lives and to participate fully in democracy, in their own communities and in today’s job market”. With this idea in mind, several organizations in Romania started coming up with ideas that would help the unprivileged get in touch to the world via the internet. One example of such organization is the New Horizons Foundation, which, among many other projects, offers the opportunity for people who are “left out the loop” to connect to the Internet. One such program, dealing with the age and accessibility factors of the digital divide is entitled “Chatting with my Granny”. Through this program, young volunteers are organizing special tutorials for the elderly, trying to teach them many things from how to use the keyboard to how to connect to the Internet or how to set up a Skype account to talk to their loved ones. The program was very successfully implemented, as many old people were willing to learn from their young “teachers” this new technology.

All in all, digital divide is still a hot issue today. As much as we would like to see it like this, we are not yet all connected and we don’t have the same chances when it comes to Internet access. But things will slowly start to change, little by little and our conversation might end like this:

“What? How can you not have Internet access? Are you living in a cave or something?”

“No, I live in an undeveloped country but I would like to learn about this thing called Internet. Do you want to teach me?”

“Uhm…ok. Give me a second to think how I should put it… Well, Internet is….”

Written by IRP

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