What we mean by digital divide? Digital challenges for dummies

The digital divide refers to the different levels of access to digital technologies. Meaning to what extent people can actually access and exploit the opportunities provided by the digital revolution.

This very crucial issue was first raised at an international level by such high-level figures as Al Gore and Bill Clinton in the early Nineties, when they decided to make a concerted effort to develop the infrastructure for internet throughout the United States.

The concept refers to the gap that exists between people and/or social groups within the same country or even within the different regions of the same state, or between world regions concerning access to digital services.

So who is actually cut off from access to technology and why should this be the case?

The variables are many but we will here consider just the main ones.

Infrastructure: in some countries the quality of the infrastructure, that is to say the absence of the physical networks, means that access to digital and interconnected technologies is very limited. This gap has been recently only partially improved thanks to the development of satellite interconnection technology via smartphones and tablets.

Economic divide: in this case it’s a question of not having the funds to purchase a computer, smartphone or tablet or paying for network connection fees.

Social: age poses a very serious problem, because the older generations have a much harder time understanding and acquiring competence in the use of the more complex technologies. The level of education also widens the gap. In those countries were literacy is still a privilege, or even in first world countries where entire social groups are suffering from literacy relapse, bridging the gap becomes very problematic which means these groups are cut off from a whole range of opportunities.

Policies: free access to the worldwide web is not guaranteed worldwide. In many parts of the world, both access and content is both restricted and by no means protected. Citizens can only see what the political power entitles them to, and this clearly has an effect on the level of democracy. One of the most striking examples of a self-inflicted digital divide of this kind can be found in China, where access to many standard services and content that have become commonplace in the West are totally unavailable on the Chinese version of the web.

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