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Digital Divide

Applied IT (Year 11) - Impacts of Technology (U2)

Jeckmen Wu

What is the Digital Divide?

The digital divide refers to the gap between those who have unrestricted access to information and modern communication technologies, and those who lack access. The inequality is not only determined by whether one possesses a piece of technology but also by the individual’s ability to utilise it effectively. For example, a device without internet connectivity has limited value in terms of accessing information, while those who lack literacy skills to read and understand online information will also be unable to fully take advantage of the digital age.

The digital divide mainly comes down to location, as those living in developing countries or rural areas usually do not have access to a reliable internet connection and quality education. However, other factors, such as social status, income, and age (e.g. elderly people may not be able to learn new technologies as quickly), also play a role in perpetuating the divide. 

Availability of Digital Resources

This aspect of the digital divide pertains to the infrastructure used by individuals to access the internet (e.g. computers, tablets, phones, modems). The affordability of technological devices primarily affects their availability, and while there has been an improvement in this regard with a wider range of affordable devices available on the market, internet connectivity remains a significant barrier, especially in low-income areas.

Use of Digital Technology

As mentioned earlier, the digital divide also extends to the disparity in individuals' capacity to effectively utilise digital technology. This is known as digital literacy, which is the ability to proficiently utilise modern technology and safely employ it to locate online resources, then evaluate their usefulness, and effectively use them to achieve one’s objective. 

Even with access to digital resources, those lacking the necessary skills and knowledge will be unable to exploit the full potential of the internet. Such lack of skills and knowledge may stem from a general unfamiliarity with technology, particularly among older individuals who didn’t grow up around technology, or from illiteracy / poor comprehension resulting from a limited education. A pertinent and contemporary example of this is ChatGPT – those who possess the necessary digital literacy skills will be able to recognise its potential uses and capitalise on its benefits.

Availability of Web-based Applications

Some web-based applications are not accessible to everyone due to certain restrictions, which may include internet speed, language barriers, and censorship. For example, without a reliable, high-speed internet connection, videoconferencing and video streaming applications may be unusable. Additionally, direct censorship from the government, such as China’s “Great Firewall” and North Korea’s heavily censored “Kwangmyong” intranet network, also restricts access to certain websites and applications (e.g. Facebook, Twitter).

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