Your Independent Understanding of the Digital Divide Matters

Ask yourself the following questions and contemplate your immediate responses for a few moments (really try to linger with them) before reading the remainder of this post. Simply think of this as an exercise to help you develop your awareness and understanding of an important topic that currently permeates many facets of our daily lives.

  1. What is the digital divide?
  2. Who is currently divided from whom?
  3. And from what are they divided?
  4. What are the causes of this division?
  5. How does this affect me?

(Insert Jeopardy game show music here while you ponder your responses…)

Now, here is what some experts are saying in response to the above questions:

  1. What is the digital divide?

“In general, the digital divide refers to the disparity between those who have access to high-speed Internet [broadband connection] at home and those who do not.”[i]

  1. Who is currently divided from whom?

“The idea of the ‘digital divide’ refers to the growing gap between the underprivileged members of society, especially the poor, rural, elderly, and handicapped portion of the population who do not have access to computers or the internet; and the wealthy, middle-class, and young Americans living in urban and suburban areas who have access.”[ii]

  1. And from what are they divided?

“ Since 1995, the Pew Research Center has documented this explosive adoption of the internet and its wide-ranging impacts on everything from: the way people get, share, and create news; the way they take care of their health; the way they perform their jobs; the way they learn; the nature of their political activity; their interactions with government; the style and scope of their communications with friends and family;  and the way they organize in communities.”[iii]

  1. What are the causes of this division?

#1- A person’s age

#2 A person’s income and educational attainment

#3 A person’s community type

#4 Whether or not a person has a disability

#5 A person’s Spanish-speaking preference; whether he/she is a minority

[iv]

The answer to the fifth question, “How does this affect me?” is simple or complex, depending on your independent understanding of what the “digital divide” means to you. The answer is simple if you first acknowledge that if you are reading this article, odds are likely that you don’t fall into the “underprivileged members of society” group mentioned in the response to question #2 above. And the odds that you partake in activities on the Internet that have deep impact on your life and those around you (mentioned in the response to #3 above) are extremely high. You have the ability to quickly and freely communicate and engage with others about whatever you choose on both a local and global scale. You have the ability to engage in conversations with your government officials who make decisions that affect the policies and institutions that are in the city or community in which you live. You are able to access medical and health information easily when you are sick or need to find a reliable professional to consult, as well as pay your bills. You have the ability to learn at your own leisure, by either taking classes online or conducting general research; there is information constantly at your fingertips. And chances are that you have a job you acquired through utilizing online sources and search engines, whether it is was acquired through a LinkedIn contact, an email, an Indeed job notification, and etc. And chances are higher that you will be able to keep the job you have because you will be able to use the skills you have learned at your own leisure while surfing the Internet; simply knowing how to surf the Internet is a skill.

After some consideration it’s easy to see how integral the Internet has become to our daily lives and how we choose to live them. While this may not be too difficult to realize, after a brief pause, what does still seem to be difficult is how we understand what to do about this “digital divide” and why it’s important not only to those that will benefit from gaining broadband access in the future, but to those of us who are already connected. It all starts with our independent perspectives of what it means to be undivided. It all starts with us collaborating and being inclusive. It starts with us asking ourselves the above questions and then talking about our responses together, whether you are involved with a non-profit group, a public group, a corporation, or are a single concerned citizen.

In “Who Should Close the Digital Divide?[v] George Lowery captures an important notion when recounting an interview with Dmitry Epstein; “Recent events illustrate how being plugged into or cut off from the Internet can change history. ‘For some, access means buying something on eBay. Others use the technology to challenge regimes,’ he said, referring to Egypt.” Now, when you think of the involvement of the Internet in the Arab Spring and what that meant for a community it is a powerful notion. When you consider everything you use the Internet for and how integral it is to contemporary life it becomes easier to see why we can’t leave out virtually half of the world’s population from the conversation surrounding how to use it and how to innovate it.

According to the 2015 Broadband Progress Report released by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), 17% of all Americans (55 million people) lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps service.[vi] And according to a World Economic Forum report released in April 2015, “only 39% of the global population enjoys access to the internet despite the fact that more than half now owns a mobile phone.”[vii] It is imperative while we move forward in advancing the Internet and what it can help us accomplish that we don’t leave behind 17% of the United States’ population and 39% of the world’s population from the conversation.

So then, I ask again, if 17% of the United States is not connected to the Internet via broadband, how does this affect you? How will this affect the way you buy things; the way markets will change? How will this affect the way you interact with others (both online and in-person)? How will this affect your community’s politics and policies? How will this affect the way that you learn? While each response is individual, the conversation is holistic and complex. And we must start asking ourselves these questions.

[i] Parks, Peggy J. Compact Research. The Digital Divide: The Internet, San Diego, CA: Reference Point Press, 2013. Book

 

[ii] http://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs201/projects/digital-divide/start.html

 

[iii] http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/02/27/the-web-at-25-in-the-u-s/

 

[iv] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/11/08/whos-not-online-5-factors-tied-to-the-digital-divide/

 

[v] http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2011/03/who-should-solve-digital-divide

 

[vi] https://www.fcc.gov/reports/2015-broadband-progress-report

 

[vii] http://www.weforum.org/news/revealed-digital-poverty-holding-back-global-growth-and-development

 

 

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