To suggest that the term digital divide may now be outdated and should possibly be replaced by the term digital inequality is a bit heavy handed. As students and researchers of educational technology we can not begin discouraging the use of digital divide in an attempt to replace it with digital inequality. To do so would be ignoring the fact that they are fundamentally two separate issues impacting our society. In this current day and age we are witnessing the advancement of technology at a rate never seen before. As a result, people are relying on technology to a greater extent each and every day. According to DiMaggio et al, “The digital revolution is the first major technological change that has occurred after the emergence of federal social science funding and the expansion of research universities in the 1960s (2004). The digital divide and digital inequality are significant obstacles that we as a society must work to overcome, through both further research and allocation of resources. However, overcoming these obstacles will be difficult due to the fact that they are so intertwined.
The digital divide is differentiated from digital inequality in that the divide is focused primarily on the statistical data regarding how many people have access to Internet technology. A current dictionary defines digital divide as, “the gap between those people who have Internet access and those who do not” (Collins, 2011). Though no formal or widely accepted definition for digital inequality yet exists, it can best be explained as the inequality among Internet users in regards to the amount of benefit they actually receive from their use of Internet technology (DiMaggio et al, 2004). Though the issues of digital divide and digital inequality are completely separate problems they have a push-pull relationship with each other. As we eliminate the digital divide through greater Internet penetration into our society we will not be eliminating inequality, instead we will be creating a new kind of inequality, the digital inequality (DiMaggio & Hargittai, 2001). While we work to narrow the digital divide we will inadvertently be widening the threat of digital inequality.
The attempts to conquer the digital divide have been primarily focused on getting Internet access into schools and libraries, with much less effort put into bringing other parts of communities up to speed (Carvin, 2006). Regardless of the narrow focus, this concentrated effort to put Internet access into schools and libraries has been quite successful. As of 2005 over 94% of American public school instructional rooms had Internet access (Computer and Internet Use, 2006). When comparing the developed world to the world globally, there are 62 Internet users per 100 inhabitants in developed nations, as opposed to only 22 users per 100 inhabitants worldwide (ITU Country Rankings, 2010). Even though a significant gap between the percentages of Internet users in developed nations and the developing nations still exist, recent reports continue to show that this divide is shrinking instead of growing (National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 2000) This means we as a society must begin working to counteract the forthcoming threat of a digital inequality.
We now live in the age of the 24-hour news cycle. Daily news websites, blogs, twitter feeds and the like are consistently pushing new information out onto the web minute by minute. The ability of someone to sort through this flood of information and have access to vital knowledge is the concern at the heart of the digital inequality issue. Giving the developing world and poorer members of society access to the Internet is not sufficient. These people will also need the equipment, autonomy, skill, support, and scope of use that is already inherent in developed nations and wealthy communities (DiMaggio et al, 2004). Without these additional support mechanisms we will only be replacing the digital divide with something much more difficult to combat, a great digital inequality.
Carvin, A. (2006) New Govt Report Exposes the School-Home Digital Divide, PBS Teachers, Retreived from http://www.pbs.org/teachers/learning.now/2006/09/new_report_ exposes_the_schoolh.html
Computer and Internet Use by Students in 2003. (2006). Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2006065
Digital divide. (n.d.) Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged. (1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003). Retrieved from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/digital+divide
DiMaggio, P., & Hargittai, E. (2001). From the ‘digital divide’ to ‘digital inequality:’ Studying Internet use as penetration increases. Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Working Paper Series number, 15. Retrieved from http://www.princeton.edu/~arts…gittai.pdf
DiMaggio, P., Hargittai, E., Celeste, C., & Shafer, S. (2004). From unequal access to differentiated use: A literature review and agenda for research on digital inequality. Social Inequality, 355-400. Retrieved from http://www.eszter.com/research…uality.pdf
ITU Country rankings. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.itu.int/net/itunews/issues/2010/03/26.aspx
National Telecommunications and Information Administration. (2000, October). Falling through the net: Toward digital inclusion. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce. Retrieved from http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/fttn00/contents00.html