Digital Divide in the US and Around the World
Since the launch of the Internet as a global communication network and the boom in communication technologies, our world has been overwhelmed by a new phenomenon – digital divide. It has gradually turned into a major, constantly growing world issue, threatening to further increase the gap between advanced and developing countries. Yet, is digital divide really an unprecedented occurrence or a natural and unavoidable trend? “Divide” is certainly a word whose meaning could be traced back to the mere dawn of human history. It goes even deeper – to human nature itself: to sex and racial differentiation, to unequal physical and mental powers, to different location and social status. During the nineteenth century, though, theory of communism tried to defy the principles of naturally existing divide. However, Marx’s utopia, which contradicted basic economic principles – of scarcity and unbounded need – was unachievable. Indeed, through the failure of the communistic experiment, which became so flagrant after the fall of the Iron Curtain, history promoted the inevitability of divide as a symbol of individual uniqueness. As to “digital”, it is just one of the many attributes of “divide” that has assumed a global meaning. Therefore, although social and economic differences will undoubtedly continue to harass society in the 21st century, the bridging of the digital gap between those in the lead and those who lag behind should be a major issue for modern civilization.
What is “digital divide”, however? We measure it in terms of penetration of communication services, Internet connectivity, and technological development, but what could possibly be the exact meaning of this modern phrase. A few definitions have been provided so far, but none of them is accurate enough. It is most often referred to as the divide between “those with access to new technologies and those without” (Irving) or between “haves and have-nots”(Hecht) in terms of information technologies. However, using “access” to define digital divide is quite improper, since an opportunity to log on to the Web does not imply knowledge to use it efficiently. For example, situation in an underdeveloped country will not improve dramatically even if new technologies were artificially integrated in its economy, unless people have the proper skills to utilize them successfully. Likewise, the suitability of the second definition could also be questioned, as information should be measured in terms of quality, rather than of quantity, because specific information with exact economic value is what really matters in e-commerce (Foster 442-43). Probably the best way to characterize digital divide is as the growing social and economic disparities between the rich and the poor.
This definition conveys an idea of the extraordinary impact of digital divide on world society and economy. Indeed, it is the close...