The Digital Divide

It is dangerously destabilizing to have half the world on the cutting edge of technology while the other half struggles on the bare edge of survival.

– William J. Clinton

It’s the knowledge gap created when one group of people have greater access to digital resources (computers, smartphones, the internet) and so are better informed, better educated and across new developments more quickly than people who either don’t have these things, or have limited access. Needless to say, the end result is increasing inequality between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ as knowledge is today’s primary currency.

This divide between rural and urban India stems from economic inequality. Sixty-seven million Indians who comprise the poorest half see only 1 per cent increase in their wealth, and 63 million Indians are pushed into poverty because of increasing healthcare costs, every year. It would take 941 years for a minimum-wage worker in rural India to earn what a top-paid executive earns in a year. The problem of the digital divide is also presents itself as a symptom that points us to a much deeper problem in our economic development. And this is a problem that characterizes both the developed and underdeveloped nations in the world. Once the economic challenges of low education levels, poor infrastructure development, and low quality of life/ income levels are addressed, the digital divide will be eliminated.

The digital divide means the ‘haves’ have internet access, unrestricted internet access, fast internet access, 24/7. They can get into the greatest minds (and most insane stupidity) the world has ever created, whenever they feel like it, from the comfort of their couch, bed, cafe table, etc. Poorer people may not have this. They might have a computer but it’s an old one and has issues, if they have internet at home, it’s likely a plan with a data limit, it may have slower times, especially if it’s being shared among a large number of people. And if they don’t have internet at home, then they’re reliant on free Wi-Fi where ever they can scrounge it in order to find the answers to their questions, complete their schoolwork and so on. And so, the ‘haves’ have information (the new world currency) at their fingertips and continue to move forward and up. The relative ‘have-nots’ lag, fall behind and struggle. Strikes me as a pretty serious disadvantage. The digital divide is predicted to an alternate and more severe form in the next ten years.

Contemporary ways need to be developed to tackle this issue as the challenges it presents now are completely different from the challenges it presented ten ten years ago. This is because as technology innovates at an increased rate over time the gap between those who take advantage of it and who do not widen. The issue is now less about the access to technology because people across socio-economic groups have access via smartphones. The new challenge is that is they are not aware of the value proposition that today’s services avail to them then they will never take advantage of them. The biggest assumption is that everyone has equal knowledge of how today’s digital platforms can benefit them. So there are no real efforts to educate the disconnected.

For the digital divide to be eliminated, the affordability of accessing internet has to be increased. To combat is ‘participation inequality’, where users lack the skills to use it, the public needs to be educated on the benefits and value of utilizing the internet and the various resources within it to achieve economic and social growth. To encourage internet adoption in remote places, local content and applications need to be developed in local languages that can be understood by the local populace. Thus, relevance of online content needs to be improved. Lastly, the internet infrastructure needs to be developed through proper planning and implementation.

If necessary measures are not taken, the existing socioeconomic gap will keep widening with digital illiteracy. The only mechanism to tackle the situation is by teaching computer science, a subject of equal relevance among sciences and maths at the grassroots as well. As of now, it remains an elective subject.

Screenshot_20200717-171240_Chrome
The digital divide.

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