Digital divide is defined as the distance between those with access to the internet and those without. Digital Divide is a problem that stretches to all corners of the world. It affects not only people here in the U. S. but also countries across the globe. Two questions have to be asked in all this. The first is “Does the Digital Divide really exist? ” and the second is “What is the real impact of the Digital Divide? ” The idea of Digital Divide did not come into play until the early 1990’s with the passage by then President Bill Clinton of the High Performance Computing Act.
What this act did was to provide funding for a high speed fiber optic network which would go on to become the internet that we use today. This enabled home computers to become more useful which in turn caused the number of personal computers in the U. S to skyrocket to over ten million in a five year period. (Rapaport, 2009) In all this a new department in the Clinton Administration was formed, The National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The NTIA is the President’s main advisor on information and telecommunication and was co-founded by Albert Hammond, a White House aide. Rapaport, 2009) It was Hammond in addition to NTIA administrator Larry Irving that came up with the phrase “Digital Divide” This phrase eventually began to appear in then V. P Al Gore’s speeches. As time went on, computer and internet prices began to fall. With these falling prices came the idea that the Digital Divide was closing. The new presidential administration did not have as great an interest in digital access and eventually “Digital Divide” became “Digital Inclusion. ” The NTIA was eventually downgraded and its budget taken away. These actions eventually and effectively ended the NTIA
The question of it the Digital Divide is real can be answered by looking at the numbers, A report done by the Pew Research Center shows that one in five American adults does not use the internet, with senior citizens, those with less than a high school education and lower income adults being the least likely to have access to the internet. (Smith, Zickuhr, 2012) Americans with disabilities are even less likely to use the internet. Nearly half of those that do not go online say that don’t because they do not feel the internet is relevant to them.
One thing that is helping to bridge the digital divide is the ever changing face of mobile technology. With the face of mobile technology changing at a rapid pace, those that were on the other side of the digital divide are now able to go online. Out of those groups, young adults, minorities, those with no college experience and lower income adults are more likely to use their smart phone as a main source of internet access. Internet use has grown greatly among U. S adults. In a span of 16 year, June 1995 to Jan 2011, internet use among those 18 and over has gone from just 14% to 78%. Smith, Zickuhr, 2012) In these numbers the line is still senior citizens, minorities, and low income as those less likely to have online access. A majority of those that do not use the internet feel they do not need it or are cautious of new technology. The difference between 2000 and 2011 is significant. In June of 2000 only 50% of American adults used the internet. That number jumped to 80% in 2011. (Smith, Zickuhr, 2011) A household’s income plays a factor in internet use as well. In August 20111 only 62% of households with income less that $30,000 use the internet.
When you compare these numbers to those making over $75,000 that have an internet usage of 97%, the Digital Divide is evident. The gap between whites and minorities is quickly disappearing. There are still some differences in internet access but they have become less noticeable and in some cases have disappeared all together. The strongest negative predictors for internet use are not race or gender, instead those factors now include seniors (those age 65 and older), low income (under $20,000), and lack of a high school education.
Among these groups there have been some increases in internet use, but there is still a gray area for some such as seniors. Even though those 65 and over are less likely to use the internet, 41% now do go online. (Smith, Zickhur, 2012) The reasons that adults do not use the internet vary. In the year 2000, 54% of American adults felt that the internet was a dangerous thing. This feeling was especially true among seniors and individuals with less than a high school education. Research also show that 39% that that access to the internet cost to much and 36% found the internet confusing and difficult to se. (Smith, Zickuhr, 2012) More recent research shows the biggest reason of not going online is the do not feel the internet is relevant to them. 48% do not want to use it or feel that do not need it to get the information they need. A majority of non-users have never use the internet before and have no one in the household that does know how to use it. Only a very small percentage one in ten, are interested in using it in the future. One thing that is changing the Digital Divide is mobile technology as mentioned above. Currently 88% of Americans age 18 and over have a cell phone.
With mobile technology expanding, 63% of American adults use a mobile device- Laptop, tablet computer, e-book reader, cell phone- to go online. The rise in mobile devices has caused a noticeable mobile difference. (Smith, Zickuhr, 2012) A person becomes more active using the internet once they get a mobile device. Of the mobile devices, smartphones are becoming more widely used than basic cell phones. Among American adults 46% now has a smartphone. (Smith, Zickuhr, 2012) There are groups that have greater levels of smartphone use such as higher income, well educated and those under age 50.
These groups also have higher rates of technology use. Younger adults (under age 30) do have a higher than average level of smartphone use no matter their income or education. Those younger adults with only a high school education or less are actually more likely to own a smartphone than older adults (age 50 and over) who have gone to college. The same holds true for income, young adults in the lower income bracket (under $30,000) are more likely to have a smartphone than older adults in the higher income bracket. Among these users, 25% say they use their smartphone as their main source of internet access.
Smartphones are helping to bridge the Digital Divide. Computer sales during the holidays fell for the first time in 5 years as gadget use such as smartphones grows. According to Walker Sands a digital marketing agency, 23% of total global website visits came from mobile devices which is up from 17% in the 3rd quarter. (Leonard, 2013 These numbers show how big the shift is to how people connect. Former President Bill Clinton said in a key note speech at the Consumer Electronics Show “Mobile Technology is doing so much now to lift the poor. Smartphones are a much cheaper way for internet access and the capabilities that go along with it such as mobile banking and social media. The smartphone is a unique item when it comes to personal technology and the Digital Divide. At the same time it represents the cutting edge of technology. It is of course the choice for people of any economic class as the most economical and efficient way to connect in an age where getting on the internet ranks up there as a top priority right below food, shelter and water.
The Digital Divide will most likely always be there but with modern mobile technology it appears to be shrinking. It does affect people not only here in the United States but also people across the globe. If you look at recent technology and the future, the implications are without a doubt very fascinating. What would happen if everyone had an affordable computer in their pocket or purse? What about the balance or more correctly imbalance of political power? All of this seems uncertain but the possibilities are endless.
One thing that is certain, the Digital Divide will always exist. There will always be those that just cannot afford it in any form. There will always be that that just do not find the internet relevant in their lives. There will also be those that want to use the internet but don’t know how. The question that remains is “How much can we bridge the Digital Divide? ” That question may never be fully answered. References Arnold , B. (2007 , Feb). Caslon analytics digital divides. Retrieved from www. caslon. com. au/dividesprofile1. tm Enger , J. (2011, June). Closing the digital divide. Retrieved from www. huffingtonpost. com/john/m-enger/economic-survival-in-the-_b_871575. html Leonard, A. (2013, Jan). Retrieved from www. salon. com/2013/01/11/smartphones_bust_up_the_digital_divide Rapaport, R. (2009, October). A short history of the digital divide. Retrieved from www. edutopia. org/digital-generation-divide-connectivity Smith , A. , & Zickuhr, K. (2012, April 13). Digital differences. Retrieved from http://pewinternet. org/reports/2012/digital-differences-aspx