lies & spin
page provides an overview of the 'digital divide', in reality
a set of divides.
It covers -
is supported by a more detailed multi-page profile
on the divides, highlighting statistics, major government
reports, academic studies and public/private sector initiatives.
The notion of a digital divide gained attention in the
1990s with recognition that some people and institutions
were not going online or were not going onto broadband.
That notion proved increasingly elastic as 'digital divide'
became a mantra to justify a range of practical initiatives,
digital pork barrelling, media headlines, advocacy documents
and industry studies.
We question the use of 'the divide' as a shorthand. In practice
it is arguably more effective to consider a range of divides
that result from different circumstances and that are most
effectively treated in different ways, rather than through
a 'one-size fits all' approach.
Those divides include information rich v information poor,
those with skill sets and big pipes versus those with few
skills, those accessing the net at home versus those reliant
on telecentres and cybercafes,
and infrastructure that has the performance characteristics
of jam tins & string.
one divide or many?
Pippa Norris's The Digital Divide: Civic Engagement,
Information Poverty & the Internet Worldwide (Cambridge:
Cambridge Uni Press 2001) suggests that there are at least
three major divides:
global divide between the developed and undeveloped worlds
a social divide between the information rich and the information
democratic divide between those who do and those who do
not use the new technologies to further political participation
is a similar nuanced analysis in Mark Warschauer's excellent
Technology and Social Inclusion: Rethinking the Digital
Divide (Cambridge: MIT Press 2003) and Branko Milanovic's
Worlds Apart: Measuring International & Global Inequality
(Princeton: Princeton Uni Press 2005). Themes from Warschauer's
work were highlighted in his 2002 Reconceptualizing the
Digital Divide paper.
statistics highlighted on the demographics page of this
guide suggested that as of early 2001 around 67% of Australian
households were not connected to the net (the apparent discrepancy
in NOIE and other figures reflects access via work) and
that users were young, male, earning in excess of $75,000,
employed, and living in metropolitan areas. That figure
had changed significantly by 2010 but disparities in access
and use remain.
low incomes, without tertiary education, living in rural/remote
areas, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage,
with disabilities, with a language background other than
English, and aged over 55 are less likely to be online.
Why? Barriers to online access include set-up and access
costs, lack of physical access, disinterest/confidence or
perceptions of irrelevance, security concerns, lack of skills/training
Skills differentials are highlighted in Eszter Hargittai's
2002 Second-Level Digital Divide: Differences in People's
Online Skills paper
, in Launching into Politics: Internet Development &
Politics in Five World Regions (Boulder: Rienner 2002)
by Marcus Franda, in The Global Information Technology
Report 2001-2002: Readiness for the Networked World
(New York: Oxford Uni Press 2002) by Geoffrey Kirkman, Peter
Cornelius, Jeffrey Sachs & Klaus Schwab and in The
digital divide: Why the "don't-wants-tos" won't
compute: Lessons from a New Zealand ICT project, a
by Barbara Crump & Andrea McIlroy. Literature is reviewed
in Maria Trujillo-Mendoza's 2001 dissertation
The Global Digital Divide: Exploring the Relation between
Core National Computing & National Capacity & Progress
in Human Development over the past Decade.
Jorge Schement has argued
that the persistence of information technology gaps reflects
ongoing payment for information services that involve recurrent
regular decisions (eg having a regular income sufficient
to pay a monthly bill) rather than information goods such
as a television that are generally paid off in the short/medium
term. Schement suggests that could explain why poorer households
experience less rapid and consistent diffusion of services
such as the net or telephone than they did with radio and
Brendan Luyt's 2004 paper
Who benefits from the digital divide? argues that
promotion of the digital divide as an international policy
issue benefits four groups: information capital, developing
country governments, the development 'industry' and global
The OECD noted in 2005 that Liberia's population shared
an international 256 kbit/s connection, the equivalent of
just one baseline residential broadband connection in the
single Danish resident has more bandwidth than the whole
of Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Comoros, Turkmenistan, Chad
and Niger combined. And a single 100 Mbit/s broadband
user in Japan has access to as much international connectivity
as the 45 countries with the lowest international connectivity
books and studies
Apart from reports noted earlier in this guide, the
divide/s have attracted increasing academic and community
For a perspective from the left consult Herbert Schiller's
Information Inequality: The Deepening Social Crisis
In America (London: Routledge 1996) and Information
& The Crisis Economy (New York: Oxford Uni Press
1986), William Wresch's Disconnected: Haves & Have-Nots
in the Information Age (New Brunswick: Rutgers Uni Press
1998), Cyberimperialism?: Global Relations in the New
Electronic Frontier (New York: Praeger 2000) and Cyberghetto
or Cybertopia (New York: Praeger 1998) both edited by
Bosah Ebo. Deconstructionists can turn to Defining Away
The Digital Divide: A Content Analysis of Institutional
Influences on Popular Representations of Technology
by Lynette Kvasny & Duane Truex, proudly "informed by
Bourdieu's sociology of language".
There are useful essays in Public Access To The Internet
(Cambridge: MIT Press 1995), a volume edited by Brian Kahin
& James Keller as part of the Harvard Information Infrastructure
Project, in Media Use in the Information Age: Emerging
Patterns of Adoption & Consumer Use (Hillsdale:
Erlbaum 1989) edited by Jerry Salvaggio & Jennings Bryant
and in Cyberspace Divide: Equality, Agency & Policy
In The Information Society (London: Routledge 1998)
edited by Brian Loader. In 2001 the OECD published
a succinct report (PDF)
on Understanding The Digital Divide.
Competition In Telecommunications (Cambridge: MIT Press
2000) by Jean-Jacques Laffont & Jean Tirole and Milton
Mueller's Universal Service: Interconnection, Competition
& Monopoly in the Making of the American Telephone System
(Cambridge: MIT Press 1996) examine universal service regimes.
Both might be read in conjunction with Eli Noam's provocative
Interconnecting The Network of Networks (Cambridge:
MIT Press 2001).
High Technology & Low-Income Communities: Prospects
For The Positive Use Of Advanced Information Technology
(Cambridge: MIT Press 1999), a collection of essays edited
by Donald Schoen, Bish Sanyal & William Mitchell, and
Cutting Edge: Technology, Information, Capitalism &
Social Revolution (London: Verso 1997) edited by Jim
Davis, Thomas Hirschl & Michael Stack are other views
from the left.
There's a more iconoclastic treatment in The Digital
Divide: Facing A Crisis or Creating A Myth (Cambridge:
MIT Press 2001) edited by Benjamin Compaine. Erik Brynjolfsson's
1995 paper on Communications Networks & the Rise
of an Information Elite: Do Computers Help the Rich get
is a detailed study by the eminent MIT economist.
Technicolor: Race, Technology & Everyday Life (New
York: New York Uni Press 2001) is a more upbeat collection
of essays edited by Alondra Nelson & Thuy Tu.
The Informational City: Information Technology, Economic
Restructuring & the Urban-Regional Process (Oxford:
Blackwell 1989) highlighted the significance of divides
within cities - most people, after all, do not live in the
bush. In the US the Urban Research Initiative on information
technology and the future of the urban environment is producing
a series of excellent research reports
Paulina Borsook's Cyberselfish:
A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture
of High Tech (New York: PublicAffairs 1999) offers insights
into the technolibertarian 'let them eat cake' approach:
just throw enough PCs and broadband at any problem and it
will go away.
Pippa Norris's superb Digital Divide: Civic Engagement,
Information Poverty & the Internet Worldwide (Cambridge:
Cambridge Uni Press 2001) tartly notes that "Like gambling
at Rick's bar - some popular accounts are shocked - shocked
- to discover social inequalities on the Internet" and then
goes on to analyse figures and issues.
The 2002 International Energy Agency Energy & Poverty
study suggested that around 1.6 billion people have no access
to electricity and that 2.4 billion rely on primitive biomass
(eg straw and dried cow dung) for cooking and heating. Charles
Kenny of the World Bank noted that around 1.5 billion people
live on US$1 per day, spending roughly US$10 per year on
telecommunications where available. Only 2.2% of India's
online population had ever engaged in buying or selling
over the web, as of 2005. That is unsurprising, given the
2010 report by the United Nations University Institute for
Water, Environment & Health that although some 563 million
people in India have access to "modern communications"
only 366 million have access to modern sanitation. As of
early 545 million mobiles phones were in service in India,
with penetration increasing from 0.35 mobiles per 100 people
in 2000/1 to 45 per 100 people in 2010. The Institute's
Director commented that -
is a tragic irony to think that in India, a country now
wealthy enough that roughly half of the people own phones,
about half cannot afford the basic necessity and dignity
of a toilet.
that time the UN claimed that 1.1 billion people around
the world lack safe water to drink, 2.4 billion have no
access to water for decent sanitation and over 4 million
deaths a year are attributable to poor water supplies.
The October 2000 London Business School paper (PDF)
by Hammond, Turner & Bain on Internet Users versus
Non-Internet Users: Drivers of Internet Uptake is suggestive,
as is The Evolution of the Digital Divide: How Gaps in
Internet Access May Impact Electronic Commerce, a cogent
by Donna Hoffman & Thomas Novak.
national and regional analysis
For ease of reference we have discussed particular national/regional
statistics, studies and associated initiatives in a detailed
supplementary profile on divides.
It covers -
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