What is the Digital Divide?

If you’re reading this article, you’re likely on the privileged side of the digital divide.  And you may be asking, what is the digital divide?

Definition

In a nutshell, the Digital Divide is the separation between the global population which has Internet access versus those who don’t.

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as:

The gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not.

Socioeconomics

Factors which impact what side of the divide one falls on are varied.   It’s easy to say it affects the Developing World, where resources and infrastructure are limited.  But it also affects those of us in modern economies based on demographics: poverty, minorities, geographic location, etc…  It is very much a pervasive problem, affecting all regions to some degree.  People who have access to the Internet and the skills to use it are more likely to prosper than those who don’t.

Dicitionary.com (the modern incarnation of Random House Dictionary) provides an alternative, broader definition in the above context:

The socioeconomic and other disparities between those people who have opportunities and skills enabling them to benefit from digital resources, especially the Internet, and those who do not have these opportunities or skills: programs that help to bridge the digital divide between rich and poor countries.

Why is the Digital Divide a problem?

The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy explains it best:

The term highlights the issue that those who do not have access to such technology are potentially destined to futures where they will be at an economic disadvantage.

In the Developed World, the Internet is so intertwined with every aspect of our lives that many simply can’t conceive there are those that haven’t ever used the Web.  Yet the OECD statistics are sobering:

  • Approximately ~2.5 billion people are on the “have” side of the divide;
  • The remaining ~4.5 billion people are on the “have not” side of the divide
  • …Almost  (66%) of the world does not have regular access to the Internet

Ubiquitous Communication

We are at an explosive crossroads in human evolution, where the internetworking of devices is leading to ubiquitous communications.  Communication is fundamental to the right to free expression, and promotes free speech in a global context.  It empowers individuals to share ideas, to innovate, to redefine their environment.  Ubiquitous global communication is the ultimate leveller of the playing field; it is the “free cultural force” that will govern our planet and drive to a common understanding, superseding diversity with a single link.

  • It will lead all of us to better, safer, freer lives.
  • It will increase our quality of living and vastly improve our efficiency.
  • It allows all of to be generalists with wide breadth instead of specialists with a narrow focus.
  • It ensures access to information in real-time, giving us the ability to make better decisions, resulting in better outcomes.
  • It increases the participation of members within a community.

But unless we cross the divide, this panacea is simply an entitlement harnessed by the few at the expense of the many.

 The  Discussion

I’d like to use this site to discuss the Digital Divide and share ideas on how we can overcome it.  This post is the introduction; future posts will delve deeper into specific challenges and potential solutions.  Join the conversation, and let’s cross the divide.

k

 

Karim Sultan
My vision is for digital innovation across the divide, by securing and simplifying the Internet and extending its reach to every citizen on Earth and beyond.

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