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According to Molinari (2011), digital divide entails the disparities in availability and use of digital technologies such as the Internet, media, and gadgetry appliances across various regions and demographics. This construct exists across various ages, disability statuses, economic levels, social groupings, races, education levels, and regions (Hudson 2011, p.46). According to the World Development Report, technological development of digital platforms has spread rapidly in the recent past across the globe (World Bank Group 2016). However, the digital dividends which encompass the overall benefits from digital technologies have lagged behind especially among population laden with poor economic situations, low education, and inadequate digital infrastructure among ethnic minorities (Thompson 2004, p.109). In this way, significant benefits from the available and emerging technologies are yet to be felt across developing economies of the world, especially in Africa and other global southern countries.
The digital divide has also been exacerbated by the evident discriminative under-investment in high-speed broadband connectivities for schools and homes across various population sections in the developed and developing countries (Graham, Mwalka and Friday 2015; West 2015). According to the US White House Broadband Report, only an estimated 71% of households in America had installed broadband connectivity which is comparatively lower when considered along other developed economies such as the UK, Australia, and Germany (Office of Science and Technology Policy & the National Economic Council 2013). Also, according to a report on the rate of Internet use in Sub-Saharan Africa, the situation is very dire with the highest recorded number of users being less than 50% in Seychelles (Guerriero 2015, p.4). Despite the recent blossoming of TECH start-ups in Africa and a few documented innovations to this effect, the rate of Internet availability and use is considerably low, especially in comparison to other developing economies in South America and South Asia.
Additionally, the existence of digital divide has been experienced across various ethnic populations in the US, the UK, and beyond. It has been marked by varying statistical differences in the availability and utilisation of computers and internet connectivities to homes, schools, and businesses (Pick and Nishida, 2015, p.11). For instance, in 2012, National Urban League Annual Conference was constituted in the US to look into the expansion of broadband connection to ethnic minorities consisting mainly of black communities. Under this programme, high schools, colleges, and black communities were supplied with high-speed computer facilities in an attempt to bridge the digital divide among them and the white majority in line with recommendations of the 2010 Pew poll. According to the survey’s data, Blacks and Hispanics lag behind the White majority in the utilisation of computers and high-speed internet for Internet connectivity (Zickuhr 2010). Other similar initiatives in America include the Citywide model in Boston and the Edison schools project whose main aims are to involve communities in providing and educating on digital technologies.
According to a 2010 report on the state of the digital divide in the UK, Martha Fox demonstrates the prevalence of technological inaccessibility in the country (Fox 2010; RGSIBG 2012). Reportedly, 10 million people were yet to use the Internet and mainly composed of socially and economically marginalised populations of the elderly and low-income households. The main reasons for staying offline included the cost, motivation, inadequate skills, and disabilities.
The Europe 2020 initiative aims to reduce the digital divide as a strategy to promote development, research, employment, and education (European Commission n.d.). It also is supposed to improve social inclusion and reducing poverty as a result. It precedes earlier efforts by Chancellor Gordon Brown through the Computers within Reach scheme where the government aim was to provide cheap computers to low-income families through a 10 million Euros initiative. The provision of free ICT learning centres aided in the training of the unemployed and provision of crucial digital literacy aimed at reducing the digital divide in the country.
Conversely, in the underdeveloped regions of the world such as African countries, such efforts are yet to be effectively applied, and to date, there is a significant digital divide compared to developed countries and especially in the rural areas where poverty and digital infrastructure are inadequate or unavailable (Fuchs and Horak 2008, p.103). On a broader scale, this alienation has been characterised as the global north and global south digital divide in a rather economic and political marginalisation perspective. The distinctive duo includes the affluently industrialised north comprising of North America, Europe and other developed countries in the northern hemisphere, whereas the global south includes countries in Africa, South America, and South Asia which are comparably poor. In the north, better connectivity leads to improved globalisation through commerce, communication, and social inclusion which have been limited in the south as a result of the inadequate presence of digital technologies (Ragnedda and Muschert 2013, p.7).
The existence of the world digital divide has been associated with controlled governments, literacy levels, economic situations, technological advances, conflict, and cultural beliefs (Fuchs and Horak 2008, p.107). These factors directly influence the availability, usability, affordability, and accessibility of Internet services across the globe. For instance, sovereign governments have been urged to facilitate investments in digital infrastructure through incentives to companies and entrepreneurs in the developing world. The provision of incentives to such tech investors provides the necessary support and technological advancements needed for closing the digital divide. The political climates, especially in Sub-Saharan countries, have, however, been non-conducive due to conflict and demotivating cultural beliefs.
The digital divide has also been wider in situations of poverty and illiteracy. It is manifested explicitly in the north-south global digital divide debate, since the north despite holding only a quarter of the world population and controlling the lion share of global economy boasts of better uptake and availability of digital technologies. It is closely related to the prevailing poverty indices which have been observed to influence the presence of a digital divide. Therefore, the economic and political players should endeavour to address these major influencers of the digital divide including the other subtle factors such as disabilities and culture to foster increments in digital dividends and reduce the gap which has been influenced since the origin of the concept in the 1950’s (Hoffman, Novak and Schlosser 2000).
Origin and Impact of Digital Divide on Society and Media Industry
The digital divide has had an immense impact on the political, social, and economic well-being of nations since its origin. In the early years, it was defined through the availability of computers. This definition has evolved through the years to constitute a variety of digital sources of information and communication such as television, social media, email as well as online service platforms for social and economic facilitation (Couldry 2003, p.92). Also, the mere availability of computers has been replaced by the more idealistic concept of affordability and accessibility which influences the use of online content. Furthermore, the nature of ancient slow internet connection and low-speed processors has evolved to high-speed broadband connections which have opened utilities to video conferencing, live streaming, satellite TV, and other media and communication applications.
Evidently, the digital divide has impacted society and the media industry in many ways. For instance, the economic divide is projected to increase between the industrialised and industrialising countries if the digital divide persists due to the socioeconomic impacts of the concept. In the media and communication industry, the broadcasting of information and ideas has wider implications in extending economic opportunities to individuals, businesses, and countries (Madianou and Miller, 2013, p.173). The availability and utilisation of internet access provide people with economic opportunities through jobs, online shopping bargains, auctions, a variety of overseas purchasing options, and time flexibility through unlimited shopping hours. Also, the globalisation of trade through Internet use delivers best value-for-money to the customers.
On the other hand, the businesses can showcase their products to a broader customer base especially through online commerce and advertisement through television, blogs, and personal websites. The businesses are also able to seek labour through online job advertisements and recruitment. In this way, the economy is boosted significantly through reduced costs of communication with suppliers and customers. Moreover, the logistical process of starting a business is subsidised through digital services from regulatory bodies and government agencies, hence boosting further the ease of conducting business.
Nationally, the improvement and expansion of economic activities lead to more national revenue and taxes from international trade as a result of the globalisation of business. Furthermore, revenue collection is made easier through online tax remittance platforms leading to more resources which can be utilised in the pursuit of economic development. Therefore, the digital divide concept is highly consequential to the economy of a country and financial empowerment of the people and enterprises.
Moreover, the digital media and communication influence directly the political discourses and societal well-being in matters of democracy, civic engagement, community agendas, and public policy formulation (Servon 2008, p.18). The democratic divide between the developed and the underdeveloped countries are a testament to the effectiveness of technology in influencing political leadership and presenting governance input towards administration of democracy. For example, the inadequate digital technologies can be firmly attributed to the rise of autocracy, since many citizens are alienated from leadership decisions and governance.
Civic engagement in matters of national importance such voter education, formulation of community policies and public policy education are facilitated better through digital means. The existence of digital divides renders such efforts ineffective leading to the implementation of inappropriate policies and information poverty (Norris 2001, p.45). Furthermore, government services are administered better through online tools which are hampered in the event of inadequate adoption of technological advances.
Socially, the existence of a digital divide is highly disadvantageous to the society. The inadequate dissemination of information, services, and ideas from digital communications and media hinders social inclusion, effective education, information acquisition, and socio-cultural development (Warschauer 2004, p.85). Mainly, it leads to alienation of communities and populations which sequentially derails economic advancements and political responsibility. Furthermore, the globalisation and integration of cultures and commerce are hampered in these circumstances, hence contributing to economic backwardness and enlargement of economic divides.
Significance and Wider Implications of Digital Divide
On a global scale, the existence of a digital divide has far-reaching significance and immense implications (Compaine 2001, p.5). The rise of globalisation has over the years been attributed to a reduction in the economic gaps between the rich and emerging countries as a result of globalised commerce and liberalisation of information. However, a widening digital divide will inevitably erode the gains accrued over the years through acceleration of economic progress in countries with better digital technologies as compared to other countries. The economies of the global north countries have experienced faster growth, as compared to the global south, partly due to technological advancements in this aspect. Communication, better business models, and accessible markets are a prime contributor to national domestic products as well as foreign exchange and globalisation (Sparks 2013, p.29). Without it, there is seclusion of weak economies and enlargement of the economic divide.
Also, the political and social environment is crucial for holistic wellbeing of a people. Low adoption of digital technologies reduces the power of citizens in participating in political and social matters of a nation, leading to ineffective democracies and exploitation by the ruling class. Instability and conflict is a likely consequence of accruing un-consultative policy formulations and marginalisation. It affects both the social wellbeing and the economy of the region leading to increased global disparities in wealth, education, health, and standards of living (Zhao, Collier and Deng 2014, p.45).
In conclusion, the accessibility and utility of digital technologies in promoting social, economic, and political progress has not been adopted optimally across all regions of the world. The unequal implementation of such accelerators of development had led to rising economic disparities across nations as a result of what has been conceptualised as a digital divide. Therefore, to ensure uniform global development, governments and stakeholders in the technology sector should put in place measures to ensure intensive adoption of digital utilities in communication, media, services, social discourses, and commerce to ensure successful globalisation and improved global development. Furthermore, the mitigation of the world’s digital divide is pivotal in cohesion, stability, social inclusion, and globalisation which have been taunted to spur growth. especially in the developing economies of the world.
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