(501) Digital Divide Vs. Digital Inequality

The Divide…

There are many ‘divides’ in society.  For the purpose of this post, digital divide refers to those who have access to both technology and internet and those who do not.  This seems to be a simple summary to an overwhelming problem in American society but yet, the digital divide is nothing more than ‘you either have it or you don’t.’

Mark Cooper in his 2004 report regarding digital divide and broadband stated that:

“about 55 to 60 percent of the population has access at home and uses it for many purposes. Another 10 percent does not have it at home but uses it much less often for these purposes in public places. The households that can afford broadband are overwhelmingly upper-income and make much more intensive use of the Internet at home.” (Cooper, 2004)

These numbers have risen, however, the gap between those who can afford the internet and those that cannot is still visible within society.  Cooper went on to conclude that “Lack of economic resources causes the initial lack of access in the first phase, but lack of access becomes a cause of lack of economic resources.” (Cooper, 2004).  Those few that can afford the internet are also able to manipulate it to benefit them socioeconomically, while those that cannot afford it do not have the ability or opportunity to use the internet to benefit them in any way, shape or form.

The digital divide does concern me.  I see the importance of the internet and as we move forward in this digital age, society relies on it more and more to compete globally.  My fear is that we are leaving people behind to the point where half of society has fully embraced technology and the other half is stagnant, thus the digital divide increases.  Furthermore    “inequalities in access to and use of the medium, with lower levels of connectivity among women, racial and ethnic minorities, people with lower incomes, rural residents and less educated people” has caused the spread of the internet to be unequal. (Hargittai, 2003)

The solution to narrowing the gap would be to target those households that Hargiatti lists and to ensure that Government funded programs focus on those ‘have-nots’ who could benefit from the programs the most.  I see the real issue being this: what good is a computer if you do not have anyway to connect it to the internet?  For this issue, I have no real solution other than ISP’s should speak to a wider audience than those who already have the internet and will always be able to afford to do so.

The Inequalities…

digital inequality is more complex in its interpretation and the many solutions are unsubstantial to me.  As digital divide explains the gap between who has the internet and who does not, digital inequality, as explained by Hargittai, “seem(s) to reinforce knowledge gaps across the population.” (Hargittai, 2003).

The Knowledge gap hypothesis (created in  1970) states that people with a higher socioeconomic status are clearly at a greater advantage.  Information is more readily available and because people with a higher socioeconomic status are generally better educated, they have critical thinking skills to understand and utilize the internet (DiMaggio, Hargittai, Celeste, & Shafer, 2004).

Digital Inequality is all about the knowledge gap and more specifically, it is about how students are taught with the use of technology/the internet and the “differences in how, where, to what extent, how skillfully, and for what purposes different kinds of people go online.”(DiMaggio, Hargittai, Celeste, & Shafer, 2004).

Students who do not have access to technology at home are only exposed to what the schools and public libraries have.  Students are unable to practice vital skills at home, therefore the knowledge gap between those who have a computer and are savvy versus those students who do not tend to be visible.

The school district I work in has not fully integrated technology…YET.  The problem I see is that if a teacher was to send home an assignment that would solely rely on using the internet to research information the students would be unsuccessful.  Does the student have the technology within their homes (Digital Divide)?  Do they know how to use the technology effectively to complete the assignment (Digital Inequality)?  I absolutely believe that  technology should be integrated into the education system (and there are thousands of examples of success) but if students have no other exposure outside of the education realm then surely constant learning can not occur?!

The connection between digital divide and digital inequality is strong; however, bridging the gap between digital divide will not bridge the gap between digital inequality– just because you give me a car does not mean I know how to drive one.

To conclude, America must implement teacher training to highlight any flaws and ensure that teachers are able to use current technology (including hardware and software).  Students should be taught and exposed to technology at an early age and, through local government support, be able to continue their learning at home with the same exact technology.  In doing so, America will not only keep up with other countries, but also raise the socioeconomic status this country finds itself in.



Cooper, M. (2004). Expanding the digital divide and falling behind in broadband. Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union. Retrieved from http://www.consumerfed.org/pdfs/digitaldivide.pdf

Hargittai, E. (2003). The digital divide and what to do about it. New Economy Handbook, 821-839. Retrieved from http://www.eszter.com/research…divide.pdf

DiMaggio, P., Hargittai, E., Celeste, C., & Shafer, S. (2004). From unequal access to differentiated use: A literature review and agenda for research on digital inequality. Social Inequality, 355-400. Retrieved from http://www.eszter.com/research…uality.pdf

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