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Digital Divide In The Contemporary Society

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Introduction

Digital divide is the gap that exists between peoples who use Information and Computing technologies (ICT) and the ones who don’t use it. This terminology came into being in 1990s soon after people started utilizing the internet and the web to find information. To those who can access the information via ICTs they benefit from increased understandings of people, expedited transactions and overall efficiency in carrying out business. Unfortunately by the 2000, a paltry 10% of the total world population of 6.4 billion at the time had access to the World Wide Web.  The expansion of internet use and the associated global digital has got the attention of policy makers, strategists, scholars, entrepreneurs, and journalists (Martin Ryder, 2005)

Causes

This disparity in information access is attributed to a number of factors. The causes of this information divide and identified: First, the unequal distribution of ICT information infrastructure, secondly, the social aspect of it having to do with skills that are necessary to utilize the technological resources. The global digital divide is also being fueled by the development status of countries.  The social divisions that dictate the access to information technology are the income inequalities, language barriers, residence and interest to be technological savvy.  Countries with low income inequalities and high per capita incomes have an increased access to information technology like the North Asia Pacific, North America and the Europe whereas regions like Africa and some parts of Asia continue to lag behind.

Most of these developing and under developed countries (Global South Countries) are bedeviled with a lot another social, economic and political problems which continues to bridge the gap between them and the developed nations. Therefore acquiring the necessary technological infrastructure has proved to be a challenge to these nations for the goal to meet their essential human requirement like food and health supersedes any other initiative. There is no justification to invest inject resources into information technology because they have limited resources to carry out such functionalities (Castell, 2000). Growth in internet trends underscores the already prevalent social and class divisions in economies across the world. Despite the benefits accruing from media growth like increased productivity and enhanced communications. From the graph below it can be noted that about 45% of the population in the OECD countries were using the internet against a less than 5% for the rest of the World.  This seems to underscore the regional disparities in the economies of the world.

 Internet Users World Wide 1990-2001 (Mauro, 2005)

Source: World Bank (2003). There are 30 countries classified as High Income OECD.

Adapted from http://proxy.hvcc.edu:2258/stable/pdfplus/3598474.pdf 

Therefore the spread and use of the internet is poised to exacerbate the existing technological gaps between nations. There is increasing evidence that proliferation of internet use is the cause for dependency and for the uneven development among the global aid organizations. This assertion contravenes the concept that integration of information technology because it is associated with new patterns of dependency not seen before.

Regulation of the information and the technological sector has also been seen as factor behind the increasing global digital divide. Governments have since embarked on a de-regulation strategy which has stepped up the utilization of the internet. Deregulation is driven by the fact that it enhances performance with the subsequent result of increasing returns. The patterns of policy making to de-regularize use of information influences the quality, affordability and the accessibility of information. This has been seen in the type of internet connection options with most users using the dialup connections.

A mere 7% of the United States internet users had a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or cable broadband by the year 2000. Internet connection type is another emerging digital divide in the information access with South Korea leading the park with a high of 28% broadband users against 14% from Canada. 31% of internet users in the United States had by 2003 installed a high speed connection.

  Therefore deregulation through privatization of technology has spurred the use of internet and fueled the global digital divide.

A more democratic and free regime tends to put less hindrances on the consummation of technology.  Authoritarian regimes impose restrictive policies that curtail the spread of information over the internet. An example is North Korea which outlawed the use of information over the internet likewise with Cuba which has limited access to public internet to chosen institutions and higher learning.

 Myanmar has instituted legislation which requires all computer owners to obtain a license besides restricting publich internet access.

Distribution of Major ICTs by income group of economies

Source: ITU World Telecommunication Indicators Database. Retrieved 8th April 2009 from http://www.itu.int/osg/spu/publications/worldinformationsociety/2007/WISR07-chapter2.pdf

China has attempted to curtail the spread of the internet by instituting policies that favor cybercafés to private use as a result a whooping 99% of Chinese did not posses a computer by the year 2002. Vietnam was not left behind; she has passed legislations that could see the closure of Internet Service Providers (ISPs). As if this is not enough these totalitarian regimes try to control access to information over the internet through censoring some specific sites through proxy servers  which retards the pace of internet growth. 17,000 cybercafés were closed in China in 2001 for failing to load software which limits ones to find information of officially banned sites.  In totality, democracy reduces the digital gap whereas authoritarian systems enhance the digital divide.

A more cosmopolitan lifestyle versus a restricted and local lifestyle plays a significant role.  A localized individual finds unnecessary to travel out of town to search fro friends as compared to a cosmopolitan individual.  Cosmopolitans consume more media content and may socialize a lot and therefore tend to use the internet more. Internet usage has come in handy and made communications easier saving on time and cost. Because of these and their thirst to consume media information has pushed internet usage to historic levels. In essence therefore a cosmopolitan society tends to enhance the spread of internet than a more localized with the effect of reversing the digital divide (Webster, 2002).

CLOSING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

In the recent wake of an increasing digital divide which is cutting across race, incomes and lifestyle, the Digital Solidarity Fund was launched by the United Nations on March 14th 2005 to bridge the gap. This fund avails the much needed financial resources to reverse the skewed distribution and enhance access to Information and Communication Technologies. Also, this fund seeks to enable people and states backward in technological infrastructure adapt to the changing patterns of information.  This initiative is founded on the understanding that funding access to information will spur economic growth in these countries. This may not be the case because the digital gap is a sign of the deeper problems having to with income inequalities, development status and the literacy levels of these countries.  Therefore to address the question of digital divide one needs to consider these fundamental issues which exacerbate the gap (The Economist, 2005)

E-learning

The American Historical Association in 1998 cam came with an initiative to increase access to information and communication technologies by historians through teaching. The project was financially supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities targets to enhance web-based teaching among college students in Wisconsin, Southern California and North Carolina. Besides they also compiling data in historical disciplines which will accessed through the association. Increasing knowledge through learning is every effective way of addressing the problem of digital divide especially in this era of increased online transactions.

Therefore the e-learning process will boost economic growth in a country.  Campuses and universities should be connected with high speed internet access that offer Voice Over Internet Protocol features for students which will greatly cut down the telephone bills in these institutions. Academic institutions should engage more and more in e-learning programs making the students to adjust to the new technological convergence. If the video conferencing facilities can be installed, then the University revenues will grow expeditiously since they will enroll even more remote students and the international students. Students need to be encouraged to use the internet as a supplement to the more traditional books approach to learning.

This will help them develop cutting edge skills in e-learning. More collaborative partnerships need to be built with giants like Microsoft and IBM in order to develop state of art computers for the students.  Computer laboratories must be open most of the time and if possible 24 hours seven days a week to accord students’ maximum and ample time to access the internet. We have to encourage the young and the ambitious generation to access the internet as the only way to tap into the information superhighway.

(Pomerantz, 2001)

Government Involvement

For instance South Korea came up with a ‚ÄėCyber Korea 21‚Äô plan to boost the capacity of ISPs in order to enhance access to information by the citizens. The governments have also initialized programs that subsidize the cost of information equipment and subscription fees, build IT centers and encouraged the use of internet in the learning process.

10 million South Koreans received free IT education from the government between 2000 and 2002.  The state has since instituted the Second Phase Citizen IT Education Program that will avail access to information by the whole digital society. As a result South Korea has emerged best country in the world with broadband penetration. It ranked the best in the celebrated Digital Opportunity Index the third time in a row.

Inevitably therefore South Korea presents the best illustration of how a country can bridge the digital divide through well planned government programs. The government will play a critical role unbalancing the e-learning programmers. It should be involved in the installing infrastructure and connections especially in disadvantaged areas. Policies should be enacted by the government which encourages absolutely everything to be done on the internet to encourage m ore and people to learn the know-how of computing.

The government has taken the first step of providing almost all its services through the web but this need to be extended to every area of the business community to realize a 100% virtual community.  Besides the government should avail free dial-up connections to those who cannot connect to the internet because of financial difficulties.  Subsidies on computer infrastructure are inevitable in realizing a full access to the internet.  We need to step online consultation because as it’s still limited even in our government which will put the public in the policy makings (Korea Herald, 2008)

Community Centered Approaches

Terry (2001) says that policies cannot succeed without involving community organization through policy initiatives. He suggests creating awareness to the members of of the community through advertising while underscoring the benefit of information technology in their lives. Projects and engagements should be identified within the community and an appropriate informational portal is build to encourage the residents to benefit from the initiative.

 He proposes the establishment of Community Technology Centers (CTC) to avail information technology to the locals. He notes that this initiative seems to work very well in locations with a closer geographical proximity than the dispersed ones. Through the CTC, information will be diffused to the locals. He gives an example of Seattle Community Networking initiatives which has done very well to boost digital literacy and promoted accessibility to the internet. Besides he suggests training the disadvantaged in the areas of Information technology (Terry, 2001)

Corporate Involvement

Businesses and the corporate should take the lead in supporting initiatives aimed at enhancing access to information by society as part of their corporate responsibility.  More is expected especially from the technology giants to fund projects to buy the necessary infrastructure to and build access to the internet.  In the US, City Access kiosks have been established and millions are taking advantage to bridge the digital divide. They have also launched the Mouse.org Organization which avails grants to schools in New York state besides supplying technical staff to work in the community on volunteer basis (Servon, 2002)

Sector Reforms

Market liberalization allows free access to technologies and competitively brings down the price. This will also involve granting more ISPs and private sector the charter to roll out internet services. This ICT sector should have its own independent regulatory body which sets standard procedures of operations in line with international regulations. Jamaica has managed to shoot herself into limelight through effective market liberalization policies and become the first middle income country to make it to the top (Servon, 2002)

Joint Private-Public Efforts

We need the joint efforts of both the Private and public sector to make available cheap computers and other associated information infrastructure. The government and the private sector need to come with a way of manufacturing inexpensive computers and distributed to those who cannot afford new expensive computers. Besides  software should be given out free of charge for many the price quoted on these product is unaffordable done through scrapping tax and lowering the cost of refurbished computers which makes them affordable to the public.

These computers can even be availed for free which is an even greener solution and in so doing we fulfill more than just closing the digital divide. The government must co-ordinate the involvement of the private sector, civil society, professional bodies including the research and academic institutions.  This co-ordination must involve all financiers, decision makers and owners of technology.  Governments should give incentives to companies which roll out IT services in the rural and marginalized areas.  These companies should be entitled to a waiver on licensing, connection fees and speed processing from the governments.

Special research should be carried out in collaboration with the research institutions to help ascertain the mode of disseminating the ICT technologies in these areas. This will help the stakeholders understand on how best to they can meet the need of the locals. These pilot projects will assist in shaping the pattern of building a relevant and reliable information portal. Should actively participate in the identification of the agenda and foresee the implementation of such policy initiatives.  The Civil society should take the lead in advocating for technology adoption while being actively involved in consultation and design of ICT programs.  They must pro-actively lobby and demonstrate with the objective realizing the implementation of such policies.

A joint and collaborative agenda will have the same goal engineered to achieve certain objectives.  The result will be an enabled ICT research, production and information networks, an experienced human resource, a proactive civil society besides boosting innovation (Heimbuch, 2008)

Re-Orientate ICT Policy and Implementation

Our policy should be reoriented with sole intention of promoting the lives of the poor through promotion of ICT technologies, develop local programs that are relevant to the need of the residents and participate effectively in the production of ICT infrastructure and services.  We should also encourage the utilization of ICT in public utilities especially among countries that rely more on representative.  We should overhaul the leadership sector in the developing economies and transform it with more digitally interested stakeholders (Marcelle, 2004)

The International Community

The international communities should pull up their socks and increase the allocation of funds to efforts that will transform the technological gap.  New pragmatic thinking in ICT need to be explored to adapt to the ever changing information sector  and avoid duplication of projects which have since ceased to be relevant in the current technological dispensation. Strategies should be long term in nature focusing on the future accruing benefits of such services.

The WSIS Declaration of Principles and Action Plan should take action to streamline the existing structural inequalities in the information sector. They should be in the forefront in calling an enhanced access to information as part of the fulfillment of the MDGs. They should take into account the regional inequalities and develop special kitty tailor-made to boost the information sector in these areas.

  We need intervention from the global community to harmonize regional goals in the proviso of ICT services. Pressure needs to be mounted on government to honor the multilateral accords they signed to close the digital divides.  We expect more involvement from these international donors to pull the ICT sector from the decades old information backwardness.  The UN through its affiliate UNDP, UN-DESA, UNESCO and the ITU must take the lead in promoting information adaptation in the developing economies.

Overhaul the Existing Social, Economic and Democratic Regimes

Most of these developing economies have to content with other internal social, economic and political problems.  These countries have the highest people who go do bed hungry or earn less than a dollar a day.  They are bedeviled with other problems like HIV/AIDS, malaria and Tuberculosis not to mention the level of malnutrition.  It therefore follows that goals to meet their day to day needs come before access to technology.

It’s imperative in reducing the existing income inequalities in these countries which will boost their capacity to utilize technologies in these economies. Most of these governments are autocratic especially in Africa where access to information is curtailed as political move to install unpopular leadership against public dissent.

These political regimes spell serious impediments in the way of bridging the digital divide in these countries.  Proper policy legislation to overhaul these totalitarian regimes must be instituted and open the gateway to a more democratic and transparent political environment platform to roll out digital technologies.

Individual Efforts

This will involve the assembly of used computers from individuals and organizations that have no use for them. They are then re-engineered by volunteering computer scientists and later redistributed to those who need them. This initiative will enable those who have no access to the technologies to find it and play a crucial role in closing the digital divide.

Conversion of Public Libraries to Access Centers

These moves can be a key way to close the digital divide especially in developing countries. The reason lies in the fact they already have available infrastructural capability to roll out technological information.  Most of these libraries are well equipped with an enabling resource infrastructure. They can be converted into internet surfing sites. They should therefore be legalized to offer internet services to the members of the public who cannot afford such technologies on their own (Sutherland, 2005)

Conclusions

The causes of digital divide are wide and differ remarkably across the globe. The trend of adoption of information and communicational technologies underscores the already existing social, economic, and political patterns in diverse economies.  In essence digital divide is just the symptom the prevalent conditions that differentiate one country from another. From the analysis above we can deduce that digital divide is a function of incomes, political regimes, government involvement, private sector initiatives and the participation of the international financiers in ICT. It’s therefore a multifaceted problem that requires a more pragmatic multi-thronged approach to deal with.  To close the existing digital divide all stakeholders will play an all important role without which it will only be a wish-washing idea. Amongst, the availability of capital to the developing economies is far urgent need. In conclusion, we hope to see more concerted efforts to realize the gains from information technology and consequently close the digital divide.

References

Castells, M 2000, The Rise of the Network Society, Vol.1 2nd ed, Blackwell: Oxford: pp.65-102

Heimbuch, J 2008, Closing the Digital Divide: Getting Cheap and Free Computers, Retrieved April 8th 2009 from http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/10/closing-the-digital-divide-free-and-used-computers.php

Korea Herald  2008, The Digital Divide: The Shadow of Network Society. Retrieved April 8th 2009 from http://proxy.hvcc.edu:2256/us/lnacademic/results/docview/docview.do?docLinkInd=true&risb=21_T6253222609&format=GNBFI&sort=RELEVANCE&startDocNo=1&resultsUrlKey=29_T6253222616&cisb=22_T6253222615&treeMax=true&treeWidth=0&csi=158208&docNo=7

Marcelle, G. (2004). Closing the Digital Divide in the Caribbean. Retrieved April 8th 2009 from http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/UN/UNPAN017065.pdf

Martin, Ryder (2005). Digital Divide. Retrieved April 8th 2009 from http://proxy.hvcc.edu:2372/ps/retrieve.do?retrieveFormat=PDF_FROM_CALLISTO&inPS=true&prodId=GVRL&userGroupName=hvcc&workId=este_0001_0002_0_00639-p.pdf%7Ceste_0001_0002_0_00641-p.pdf&docId=GALE%7CCX3434900199&callistoContentSet=MACM

Mauro, F. & Sandra L. Suarez, (2005). Explaining the Global Digital Divide, Political and Sociological Drivers of Cross-National. Social Forbes. Vol. 84(2) pp. 684-700. Technology and Development. The Economist.  Retrieved April 8th 2009 from http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=3742817

Pomerantz, L 2001, Bridging the Digital Divide: Reflections on Teaching and learning in the Digital Age. The History Teacher: Vol. 34(4) pp. 510-515

Servon, Lisa 2002, Bridging the Digital Divide: Technological, Community and Public Policy. Blackwell, Oxford. Pp. 44-89.

Sutherland, S. 2005, Closing the Digital Divide-Draft Summary of the Stakeholder Discussions. Retrieved April 8th 2009 from http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/Bibliofile/2001/ClosingtheDigitialDivide.pdf

Terry, C 2001, Socio-technology: Digital Divide in Journal of Information Science, Vol. 27(1) pp. 55-60

Webster, Frank(2002).The Information Society Revisited, Chapter 1 in Leah Lievrouw and Sonia Livingstone (eds.) Handbook of New Media, Sage: London

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