Does Digital Divide impact some cultures more?

Imagine two groups: one that lacks access to a computer and internet and another that is using advanced technology to make significant progress in science. Does this not represent a divide that could determine quality of life for a group?

Technology affects all of us and hence all cultures. Technology is so tightly integrated into our daily lives that we cannot even imagine what life would be without it (for better or worse). In today’s world, technology facilitates everyday communication, relationships, customs and traditions, education, and arts, allowing them to occur in a more integrated way. When a culture lacks that technology, traditions and customs are still preserved but development does not progress at the same pace as it does for those with access to technology. This is what widens the Digital Divide. University of Iowa’s wiki rightly asks the question as to what would we do if we did not have a cell phone nor access to the internet? The poorer sections of many developing countries and even people in the low-income groups in developed countries like the United States do not have access to the internet and hence are unable to progress. Therefore, such cultures become more isolated from the digitally connected world and hence we need to look at potential ways to bridge this divide.

Digital Divide impacts the education sector the most. Certain cultures are more impacted due to lack of education stemming from Digital Divide and those cultures in turn widen the divide even more. This makes access to quality education very hard for the affected groups. According to a report by Stanford, “the digital divide, as a whole, remains an enormous and complicated issue – heavily interwoven with the issues of race, education, and poverty” (Stanford Education). While lack of technologies related to education is a reason for the divide, several studies have shown the lack of internet access to be the most important contributor to the Digital Divide in the education sector. Race/ethnicity and socio-economic status are identified as significant factors that explain the reason for the digital gap and have been noticed as trends over many years. For example, the graph below shows internet use by race and ethnicity within the United States. While the percentage of people using the internet in each race has increased since 2007 with occasional dips, the gap across races still seems to exist. As we can see, certain races use the internet a lot less than the others. Specially, the Hispanic, Native Indian or Alaska native and the African American groups are way below the US average use. So, cultures in which these races or ethnicities form a majority are likely to be more impacted from this lack of internet use. This causes those cultural groups to fall farther behind due to the disadvantage of not having the proper tools to continue their education effectively.

Lack of computer or internet access reveals inequality in education. A pre-pandemic study done by Pew Research Center shows how Digital Divide affects the Black and Hispanic population significantly more than the others. Individuals who are a part of these groups are unable to complete their homework and/or must use public Wi-Fi (like a Starbucks) to complete their homework. This could leave them behind compared to those who have access to multiple computers and with internet access.

In addition to race, we can also infer that household income impacts the ability of the children to complete their homework. Children from households with income less than $30K are unable to complete their homework at a much higher proportion compared to the others. Given the population of school-attending children is close to 56 million, the actual number of children impacted would proportionally be in millions. This part of the divide is the economic divide, which “is manifested in the fact that some people can’t afford to buy a computer”, so “for truly poor developing countries, computers will remain out of the average citizen’s reach for 20 years or more” (Nielsen Norman Group, 2006).

If students are unable to finish their homework that some of their peers can do, then how could they enhance their learning? If this were to happen over time within some cultures, then we would have some students that would fall behind their digitally connected peers and likely end up with jobs where the income potential also would be commensurate with that lack of digital development.

 Race/ethnicity and income levels represent a strong correlation to Digital Divide, and if uncorrected will have devastating impacts on those cultures’ future generations. Hence, the Digital Divide is an urgent problem that we must solve.

Sources:

  1. https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs181/projects/digital-divide/start.html
  2. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/10/26/nearly-one-in-five-teens-cant-always-finish-their-homework-because-of-the-digital-divide/
  3. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/digital-divide-the-three-stages/
  4. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01972243.2011.548695?scroll=top&needAccess=true
  5. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0175011
  6. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372
  7. Image attribution: Advancedsolver, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons; File URL: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/55/Introducing_digital_classroom.jpg

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