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Some suggested web sites to read before going on:

  1. http://www.digitaldivide.gov is the main "Digital Divide" web site.
  2. http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/digitaldivide/ for the reports that make up the "Falling Through the Net" series that coined this buzzword.

The issues at hand for this divide is not just based on "who has a 'puter, and who doesn't?" Some of the issues involved are the penetration of POTS in different neighborhoods, the kinds of people who don't have a computer (minorities like blacks and latinos), and what do they do with internet access if they have it (e-mail, finding jobs, and so forth).

Well, I have my own issues regarding this report. I was thinking how and why computers are expensive (even at the $1,000 level). How much does it cost (in time and money) to learn to use a computer? What kind of computing equipment and education should be provided to ease the problem? Are computers really that expensive? I don't want to just give money to "fix" the problem, but I want to make sure people learn to use a computer and evolve as a better human being (or even better, be a hacker!).

Before you (the reader) go to read another node, look at yourselves. What kind of a person are you in terms of race and economic status? What is your neighborhood like? What kind of neighbors do you have? I'm an Asian American in a working class family, living in a "middle-of-the-floor" working class neighborhood. My neighborhood has a public library, with internet access (very small-looking Gateway computers running Windows NT -- yikes!). Even more, can you use your computer smarts to help improve the condition of your neighborhood so they can learn about computers?

Before the term was perverted by the american government, the digital divide was about more than the working and homeless classes in USA; it was about:

Adam Vollrath

HIST 1020

28 November 2002

Left Behind: The Growing Worldwide Digital Divide

If the other dimension of ideas described by Plato exists, then there is at least one idea form attached to every object, which represents its archetype in the other world of the ideal. Complex objects would be composed of more than one idea. Thus, our world is just a shadow of the world of the ideal, the end result of the reaction of those forms. Personally, I do not think this is the case.

The physical world is, I believe, exactly what it looks like: Random collections of atoms, chemicals, and organisms, which may or may not have a deeper meaning at the bottom line. Plato's world of the ideal does exist, however, in the minds of humanity.

Group-living animals were the first objects on our planet to communicate with each other. As this communication became more complex, so did their network of ideas. Humans, having a technical written language, operate the most complex to date. Since the beginning of human communication we have categorized the world as we see it into ideas, and believed it to be the interaction of these ideas. The first polytheistic religions referred to them as "spirits". A majority of ancient peoples believed that everything that happened, from gravity to human relations, was driven by the will of the gods that drove these forces. The natural world was more than happy to oblige anyone looking for miracles.

As human communication became more articulate, more interesting ideas became available. This network reposited more and more information, large ideas with many concepts in the minds of it's members. These were passed along using storytelling, books, type, song, dance, theater, synagogue, library, and forum. Every time a scientist, shaman, philosopher, messiah, athlete, or government create and spread new ideas, the network expands. World views, ethical and belief systems, and religions are large sets of ideas called "memes". These perspectives influence everything that their followers take in, giving varying viewpoints and different networks to each culture.

So, what next? The newest manifestation of this network now comes in the form of the Internet, and the World Wide Web riding it. It is fair to say that the Internet represents a significant technological revolution. Anyone in the world with access to a computer and Internet connection is able to access billions of pages of information from anywhere else in the world. On-line encyclopedias, reference materials, and technical information are all available in minutes to anyone possessing this precious connection. Industrialized nations have utilized this medium to spur their economies, organize their government, and empower their citizens with knowledge. It brings these productive members of industrialized society stock quotes, movie reviews, online gambling, horoscopes, and loads of porn. These citizens thank this digital information revolution for improving their quality of life. By this, online communities have an advantage over those that are not. This is the nasty side of the digital divide. Communities that are empowered by technology can (and as history shows, will) exponentially acquire more technology, becoming more empowered, and so on.

Not everybody has access to this web on information, however. Thus, humanity can be divided into those who have a connection to the vast Internet, and those who have not. Usually, the haves are the middle and upper economic classes in well-developed, industrialized nations. Most of the these have-nots are those living in third-world and developing nations. This division is referred to as the "Digital Divide". This disparity is most noticeable between the modern Western world and the rest of the globe. Of all people online, 41% of them are in the United States and Canada. By contrast, only 4% are in South America (Bridges.org).

However, even in America, not everyone is connected. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Commerce released a surprising report, titled Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide. This alarmist report warned that many Americans were being left behind in the Information Revolution. It found that out of households owning computers but not connected to the Internet, most (27.5%) cited 'not wanting to' as their reason for staying offline. 57% of Americans without Internet connections plan to stay disconnected (57, PDF version).

The Internet is a big part of what the United States is today, and where it is going. America's digital divide, and its cause, are hotly debated topics in politics. Falling Through the Net and other reports noted a connection between minority status and those without home Internet connections. For example, it emphasizes, "A White, two-parent household earning less than $35,000 is nearly three times as likely to have Internet access as a comparable Black household and nearly four times as likely to have Internet access as Hispanic households in the same income category." (6 printed version) Many pundits have pointed to this disparity as evidence of a racial inequality. However, economic class has proved to be the deciding factor for minorities wanting to be online in the United States, as a Forrester Research report in April of 2000 showed. In fact, it found that Hispanic and Asian-Americans ranked above Caucasians in online connections (Brady).

Although many people simply choose to stay offline, its cost prevents many more. An American household with a yearly income of $70,000 or more is 20 times more likely to own a computer than families in the lowest income bracket (Brady). Only 7.2% of these upper class homes that are offline cited 'cost' as their reason, compared to 33.2% of unwired homes in the $5,000 to $9,000 bracket.

Similar factors affect other nations. For most of sub-Saharan Africa, an Internet connection is hard to find. The few that are in operation are incredibly popular, despite their prohibitive cost. There are now about one million dial-up Internet connections in Africa, and all are heavily used. For each connection, there averages about three e-mail users. However, two-thirds of these three million users live in the country of South Africa. For the rest of the continent, there is one Internet user for every 750 people, compared to the world average of one in thirty-five, and the U.S. and European average of one in three (Akst and Jensen). Though Westerners may take the World Wide Web for granted, it is hard to come by in these third-world nations.

It has been shown that advanced communication and access to information can empower a population. Bridges.org, an international non-profit organization working to span the digital divide, reports:

Underneath the apparent widening and narrowing of the ICT information and communications technologies divides, the underlying trend is that privileged groups acquire and use technology more effectively, and because the technology benefits them in an exponential way, they become even more privileged.

The infusion of ICT into a country paints the existing landscape of poverty, discrimination, and division onto the new canvas of technology use. Because ICT can reward those who know how to use it with increased income and cultural and political advantages, the resulting digital divide shows up in increasingly stark contrast.

Therefore, ICT disparities usually exacerbate existing disparities based on location (such as urban-rural), gender, ethnicity, physical disability, age, and, especially, income level, and between "rich" and "poor" countries. (Bridges.org Ch 2)

The domination of the United States has affected the Internet. Nearly all web pages in existence have been written in English. Because of the difficulties in translation, much of the Internet remains inaccessible to anyone who can't read English. Also, Since most major Internet news agencies are based in the United States, they provide only a U.S.-centric view of current world events. Undoubtably, because our media has penetrated many third-world countries, they have become more aware of the situation that they reside in. It is now as easy to watch "Jerry Springer" in Lagos, Nigeria as it is in Tennessee. Hopefully, they are laughing at us.

Some, however, are not laughing. Anti-U.S. sentiment in developing nations has been growing since the end of the Cold War in the 1960s. During the Cold War, government foreign aid was seen as a tool to keep communism from spreading. In 1964, the U.S. spent 9.6 billion dollars to help third world nations, or 0.6% of the U.S. GNP. In 2000, it spent only 0.1%. When impoverished peoples see the disparity between Western affluence and their own lives, it can promote a sense of disenfranchisement. Fueling this could be the impression that Americans don't care and take this affluence for granted (Kirkpatrick 212).

Just how important is the Internet to a civilization? It is a matter of perspective. It could be seen as only a luxury, the same way we see television. Or it could be seen as a prerequisite for modern living, like government infrastructure and a police force. Or it is a required force for empowering individuals, as is democracy and free speech. There is no simple answer. The Digital Divide does exist, and it is a defining factor in the development of civilizations, but it's true implications are unknown. Mick Bradly, a writer for the E-Commerce Times, wrote: "The digital divide is not a crisis. World hunger, wars, AIDS, and environmental decay are crises. When the Internet can solve those problems, maybe everyone needs to have a computer. In the meantime, technology is moving fast enough." Electronic communications may not be able to solve these problems itself, but it can empower people to solve them. 21st century technology is what enabled modern nations to solve many of these problems, and it may someday help those left behind.

Historically, people were divided into rich and poor when it comes to money. The same concept applies today when it comes to information technology. For instance, there are fortunate people who have access to the internet and unfortunate ones who do not have access to the internet. The digital divide is a new term used to describe people who have access to information compared with people who do not have access to information through the internet. Just as money has its social impact on the day to day life of rich and poor, equally, the digital divide has its social impact among the connected and disconnected.

The digital divide was at first a world wide concern between developed countries and developing countries in the mid 90s. Connected countries had an advantage while disconnected countries had a disadvantage. Both parties wanted to bridge the gap, otherwise, the digital gap would become larger and the disconnected would be left behind. For example, Arab countries were slow at connecting to the internet, primarily because of political and social reasons. In the beginning, most Arab governments saw the internet as a threat to the stability of their governments, but eventually, the internet came in after governments relaxed their paranoia. Unofficial statistics place Arab net users between 30 to 40 million users.

The internet reap a host of benefits for people who use it, among the benefits are business transactions, personal correspondence, research and information gathering, and shopping. In each of these benefits, doing them online is cheaper and faster than doing them off line. Clearly, people who are disconnected are at a disadvantage in an increasingly connected world.

Countries can be divided into two categories when examining the digital divide, low income and high income countries. High income countries have nothing to worry about, as they have the resources and skills to get connected. Low income countries lack the skills and funding to develop a healthy network.

The digital divide is not only a world wide concern between countries. It is also a social concern inside each individual nations. For instance, in the US, high income families can easily get connected, while low income families and minorities have a hard time getting connected. In addition, urban areas have easier and faster access to the internet while suburban areas are catching up by wiring it to urban areas.

There is research that further divide the digital divide into subgroups instead of the classical connected and disconnected group. One recent survey found that 58% of Americans are connected, 24% are disconnected, 10% are drop outs, and 8% are evaders.

The digital divide is wider than people think it is, more than 80% of the world population never heard of a dial tone and are left behind. UN secretary general Kofi Anan said, "People lack many things: jobs, shelter, food, health care and drinkable water. Today, being cut off from basic telecommunications services is a hardship almost as acute as these other deprivations." While attending telecom 99 summit in Geneva, Switzerland.

In brief, the digital divide describe countries and individuals that have access compared with countries and individual that do not have access to the internet. It is a social concern to world governments who want to better the lives of their citizens by getting the general public connected to make the nation benefit from the internet.


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