Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

DMED 500 Assignment #2 (Yes, seriously, this is an assignment!)

For the Foundations course we have an assignment of writing a blog entry. I picked the topic of the "digital divide".  I have made use of materials from Mark Warschauer, a professor and associate dean, at the School of Education, at the University of California, Irvine. The primary source for this blog entry was his writing entitled "Whiter the Digital Divide?"... and away we go!

From a historical context I do not view the digital divide as anything new, as a matter of fact it predates the concept of digital by a few millennia. I could start with the probability that early man had some groups develop communication faster than others, and those groups probably survived more easily than the other groups. I could skip ahead to the educated priests in ancient Egypt who held the power, in part because they could read, or the middle ages where the same is essentially true of the Catholic church. The printing press was a great equalizer, but even that took a few hundred years for us to be able to have a fairly level playing field in the developed world.

The digital divide is yet another difference between groups of people. Now, people do not have the Church or some other entity explicitly keeping them from crossing the divide. Our world has gotten a lot smaller with the advent of boats, telegraphs, trains, telephones, airplanes, and the internet. Just like the printing press brought information to the masses the digital world will, eventually come to the masses as well. Given the rate of adoption of cell phones in areas that do not have traditional land lines, it seems almost to be a grantee that the digital divide will be bridged much sooner than divide crossed by the printing press.

There are really two digital divides, one between nations of different status, such as Canada compared to a 3rd world country, and another between groups in an individual nation. At one point there was a single internet connection for Afghanistan this put the digital world squarely in the control of the government, just as it was in ancient Egypt or the middle ages. In the United States about 28% percent of the population is without internet access in the home.

Education and commerce are becoming more and more reliant on the digital world. Those without access to the internet will have a harder time keeping up with those that do have access. However if we compare the time it took to for books to be in the hands of the masses, and the time it has take for the internet to be adopted the adoption rate is staggering.

A sample of the number of internet users found in Wither the Digital Divide shows that in 2006 Africa had about 2.6% of the population had internet access, that number in 2012 is now at about 7%.  For Asia the 2006 rate was about 10%, in 2012 about 45%.  As time goes by the presumption is that, just like books, the internet will become more widely available to the citizens of the world.

The other side of the coin, is, of course, how much of the population in a given country or region is has internet access. Essentially those that have easier access to the tools used to access knowledge or generate income will have an easier time in a society that values those aspects. As Warschauer points out,  "Those who have the greatest access to and mastery of [information and communication technology] have increased their socioeconomic position."

While the governments in the United States have taken steps to reduce the physical digital divide by providing computers to schools, the use of those computers in the class room as effective teaching tools is still divided along socioeconomic lines.  It is easier to get ahead when you are being pushed from behind. To take it to the extreme, what value is there in learning to read if you are struggling to gather food to survive? Having access to books in that case is of little value.

In the end, yes, there is a digital divide. The digital divide, like other similar divides in the past, will close. Given the pace of technology adoption the digital divide should narrow quickly, however simply having access to the internet is not enough. People need access to materials and the knowledge to make use of the material.  This is the true digital divide, and in time I think that one will also be overcome but that will probably take more time.

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