The Digital Divide, or a Digital Abyss?

// Posted by on 04/23/2014 (11:34 PM)

A map showing internet connections around the world. Source.

The digital divide is the inequality of access to, as well as use of or even knowledge of, information and communication technologies. This divide is usually based in socioeconomic inequality, but can also stem from other factors such as location. This divide can be recognized not only on a national level within a single country, but on a global level as well.

The term “Digital Divide” implies a problem within itself: there is a divide, an inequality, in access to digital technology. My research problem is to explore this divide more thoroughly with three main questions. 1) How much of an obstacle does the divide pose? 2) Should digital access be considered a basic human right? 3) Can the divide be solved/lessened? The main argument I’m focusing on is the question of whether or not digital access should be considered a basic human right, which I am arguing it should be.

On a human level, the digital divide looks like a single mother of 3 trying to find a job to provide for her family, but with little access or knowledge of computer, cannot apply to most positions because they require online applications. It looks like an intelligent 17 year old from a less developed neighborhood whose high school never taught her any form of computer literacy and who now has little confidence in moving on to higher education. It looks like an immigrant who doesn’t know he can call his family for free. The digital divide can manifest itself in an individual being unable to afford technology, them not knowing how to use technology, or them just not realizing the benefits of technology.

With nearly 7 billion people in the world, only about 30% of those people have ever even touched a computer before. The majority of the people who are digitally connected are concentrated in North America and Europe, well developed nations both socially and economically. This is a huge discrepancy in the representation of a global population within technology.

A map of connections around the world. Source.

If you zoom in on the issue of the digital divide within the scope of the United States, only 57% of individuals with an income less than $30,000 use internet, 80% with an income of $30,000-49,999, 86% with an income of $50,000-74,999, and 95% with an income of $75,000 or more. Again, there is an obvious gap in access to technology.

With my blog, I am exploring the who, what, where, when, how and why of the digital divide: what the digital divide even is, who it affects, where it is an issue, how long it has been and will continue to be an issue, how it can be solved, and why the digital divide even matters.

The majority of the information I have found so far is openly biased toward the idea of technology and access to the internet as a basic human right, which has been convenient since that is what the blog in general is advocating for. But it has been much more difficult to find resources that defend the opposing viewpoint, which is definitely something I want to include in my blog. I feel like an argument is not fully presented until it explores both the pros and the cons, so I still have some further research to do. But for the most part I want phase 2 of my blog to focus on potential ways to close the digital divide and testimonies as to why it is so important. For example, these two TedTalk videos give interesting perspectives on where the solution to the digital divide can be taken:

To keep up with my exploration, you can follow my blog at

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Kevin said...

In response to your research questions:

1) I think it currently is a major obstacle, but it is an obstacle that we can overcome. By providing poorer schools with better computers through taxation and cable company regulation, I think it is possible that we could see major improvements in regards to the digital divide over the next decade. It seems that we are just starting to really catch on to this problem in a lot of ways, so I like to believe we will take major steps to overcome these obstacles over the next ten years.

2) I do not think that we are yet at the point where it should be considered a “human right.” Although internet access provides many advantages to those who have it, it is still a commodity at its core. If we want to turn it into a basic human right, then we first must concentrate on creating the infrastructure for everyone to at least have internet available in their area.

3)I think it can be lessened, but it will never be truly “solved.” There will always be wealthier individuals with greater access to resources, and that is simply a direct result of our capitalistic society. We will never truly eliminate the notion of some people having greater access to internet technology because there will always be richer people and always be poorer people. However, we could certainly take strides to lessen the divide by providing poorer schools with better technology funding through taxation and make internet accessible to a greater number of territories through increased regulation of the cables companies.

// 04/24/2014 at 12:53 pm

Eliza said...

1) How much of an obstacle does the divide pose?
I think this is a major obstacle right now, however it is one that can be improved. For low-income families this will be a harder obstacle to overcome, but the government can be a force when it comes to providing Internet access to poverty-stricken schools. I think with the governments help through taxation policies, etc the digital divide could change in a couple years.

2) Should digital access be considered a basic human right?
Of course it is easy for us to sit here and say no, it shouldn’t be a basic human right to be granted digital access. However, we all do that as we are sitting on our computers on any Internet website of our choosing. With that said though, I still do not believe it is everyone’s right to be given digital access. It is a privilege to have Internet access in your homes, not a right.

3) Can the divide be solved/lessened?
I believe that in the next couple years through government regulations, the digital divide can be lessened. It will never be completely solved, however it can be improved. In the world we live in today, it has to be enhanced. The Internet is starting to operate everything and thus more and more people will become reliant on it. Several years ago we would never be even considering Internet a human right because it wasn’t really relevant. Nowadays everyone is beginning to be tuned in online and for those who cannot they are taking a huge hit.

// 04/26/2014 at 11:36 am