Digital divide in the US reflects the real or perceived differences and inequalities that exist between people, families and other groups with varied demographic and socioeconomic characteristics with regard to gaining access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) alongside skills and knowledge required to use the available information optimally (LaRose et al. 359). This definition highlights inequalities that the Internet and technologies have brought about to populations. Simply put, it is the gap between the technology have and have-nots (U.S. Department of Commerce 5).
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Following the explosion and mass adoption of the Internet in the US in the past decade, researchers have conducted many studies to identify the Internet access and usage among Americans. As a result, they have identified significant trends among users and non-users of the Internet and related technologies in the US, particularly among the haves and have-nots (Mossberger, Tolbert, and Gilbert 583).
In the recent past, the digital divide gap has narrowed considerably. Other Americans, however, have continued to demonstrate a complete lack of connectivity based on their demographic characteristics, such as race, socioeconomic status or ethnicity (U.S. Department of Commerce 7). In this regard, many academics, professionals, policymakers and leaders have singled out the digital divide as a source of a major challenge that requires immediate intervention because technologies can significantly transform lives of users (Warschauer and Matuchniak 179).
While the use and frequencies of usage of the Internet have improved significantly among Americans, some sections of the public are not yet connected to the Internet. Nevertheless, Internet connectivity continues to rise steadily across different states. Today, many residents continue to get connection in more than one location or through several devices, including smartphones. Apart from the gap in access and connectivity, many studies have identified other factors related to users’ skills and knowledge as restricting and creating the digital divide in the US. This divide highlights the differences between groups in the US based on their technological expertise and literacy.
Today, the US government has focused on closing the digital divide among Americans. Consequently, it has encouraged participation from all stakeholders, including both the public and private bodies. In this regard, there are many policies to promote digital literacy and develop infrastructures required to close the digital divide gap in the US.
Demographic characteristics are the major indicators of the digital divide. Age is a critical factor among Internet users in the US and globally. Throughout the history of the Internet usage, older generations have constantly recorded the poorest rate of usage relative to younger generations.
Many studies have established that Americans aged 55 years of age and above have the lowest rates of the Internet adoption and usage while people in the age group of 18 to 24 years and older have the highest rates. The same situation has been observed in households in which young families have higher rates of broadband usage and access. Generally, the rates of technology usages have increased steadily across different age groups. Nevertheless, seniors have shown the lowest rates of Internet connectivity and usage. There is limited disparity between men and women in digital divide.
Digital divide discrepancies have also been reported among races and ethnic groups in the US (Mossberger, Tolbert, and Gilbert 583). In this case, racial minorities have shown the poorest levels of the Internet access and usages, a wide gap in digital literacy, knowledge in ICTs and ownership devices and infrastructures needed for connection.
A study by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 2009 concluded, “77.3% of Asian Americans, 68% of Whites, 49.4% of Blacks, and 47.9% of Hispanics used broadband at home” (U.S. Department of Commerce 6). While the racial gap in the Internet connectivity and usages exists, various studies have shown that the gap is declining as many racial minorities adopt the Internet at significantly higher rates than the racial majorities (Warschauer and Matuchniak 183).
Location also plays a critical role in gaining access to the Internet and other technologies. Generally, people may use the Internet at various locations, including offices, homes, public places and Internet cybercafés among others. Additionally, mobile devices have increased portability, accessibility and usages of the Internet.
Location, however, has a significant impact in the digital divide because it creates the gap between rural and urban residents. Individuals based in rural areas may also experience drawbacks that emanate from knowledge and skill gaps. As the US government intensifies its efforts to enhance digital literacy and Internet connectivity, many folks in the rural areas have started to adopt technologies.
The levels of households’ incomes have strong correlation with the Internet adoption. Households with low incomes have the lowest rates of the Internet usage while others with higher incomes reported relatively stronger Internet usages.
Educational attainment also influences the digital divide gap. For instance, individuals with highest educational qualifications have reported highest rates of Internet usages while others with low academic attainments have low rates of usages.
It is imperative to understand why digital divide could be risky for the United States. Many people have noted that the Internet promotes socialization in the US and therefore, the growth of social capital. Thus, Internet non-users can show social deprivation compared to users. Majorities believe that the Internet enhance social capital, which entails engagement in various community activities. Moreover, people who rely on the Internet for information have formed a community of users through social networks. They also tend to engage in social activities, take part in political issues and promote social issues that affect them (Nie 420).
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As the Internet becomes the Internet of Things, it also presents economic gains to users and the US. The US leads the world in the Internet technologies with the highest revenues. This achievement has emanated from economic values and potentials of the Internet and related technologies. Obviously, the Internet has resulted in faster processes, cheaper services and efficient means of service provisions. In this sense, the Internet has contributed to wealth creation in the US. Today, there are online business ventures that rely completely on the Internet.
Additionally, the brick-and-mortar stores have decreased as many business owners adopt e-commerce to reduce costs of operations and enhance productivity, as well as business efficiency. As the Internet continues to generate revenues and create wealth for many, online activities have promoted private usages and driven consumption among the public. Today, online business activities have grown tremendously as the success of Amazon.com demonstrates. The online business continues to grow as many people adopt the Internet.
Apart from economic reasons, a wider digital divide gap could render the efforts of the US government fruitless as it strives to enhance communication with the public through various e-government platforms. E-government communications require educated citizens who possess digital literacy skills. The US government aims to facilitate interaction with the public and business owners.
The mass adoption of the Internet by the business communities and individuals has driven down the cost of energy in the US. The Internet usage has eliminated the need for energy to manage certain goods and for production of papers. Consequently, it has led to a decline in carbon dioxide emission in the atmosphere and by extension, pollution and global warming.
It is understood that the government is focused on reducing the digital divide and its negative impacts among Americans. People must be able to gain access to the Internet in order to use it for various purposes, including socially and economically. Americans are not restricted to access the Internet and other related technologies. However, many Americans cannot use the Internet due to factors associated with the digital divide, which may include age, lack of infrastructures, knowledge and skills and the inability to find the relevant information over the Internet.
Socioeconomic challenges and lack of knowledge are major drawbacks and main contributors to the digital divide in the US. They also hamper mass connectivity to the Internet and subsequent usages. These challenges have affected many Americans who have greater opportunities of utilizing the Internet technologies for various purposes. Although some potential users can gain access to the Internet, they lack knowledge on capabilities of the Internet and related information that may be found from it.
From the US government’s efforts, which involve the establishment of various agencies and enactment of policies, the digital divide gap has continued to decline. It still exists, but access and usage have continued to rise across states. Americans also require related skills to close the digital divide gap.
Given the relevance of ICTs in the lives of many Americans, it is imperative for all stakeholders to fix the digital divide and close the gap. The US government and other stakeholders have focused on reducing the digital divide among the public. Choemprayong noted that the US government had developed several policies at various levels to address the issue of digital divide (204).
These policies have recognized fundamental roles that the private sector can play to close the gap. Specifically, the study by Choemprayong established that the US government developed policies within the framework of “three major components, namely; Information Infrastructure, Digital Literacy and Digital Society” (204). Every level addresses various issues that have hampered the penetration of the ICT among Americans.
The need to address digital divide in the US rose after realization that the gap was growing steadily as the haves and have-nots perceived ICTs in different manners (Choemprayong 201). This suggests that the problem could not fix itself and therefore, it required interventions from various stakeholders.
Developing information infrastructures that are necessary to close the gap could facilitate connectivity and the use of the Internet among many Americans. The Internet should foster information revolution. However, the most recent article by Lori Day has claimed that a new challenge has emerged due to the speed of technology upgrades and the challenge therefore is no longer the gap between tech haves and have-nots (1). Government and private partners’ policies must address issues that concern connectivity, affordability, ethical concerns and major roles of educators and society in promoting digital literacy among the public.
As Americans strive to ensure that all schools and students have computers or iPads, the issue of digital literacy has always affected the implementation efforts. It involves individuals’ capabilities and skills to use technologies effectively. It is imperative to note that a lack of skills and knowledge on computer and Internet usages can widen the digital divide.
In this regard, information literacy and digital literacy are mandatory for Americans if they want to close the digital divide gap. People need information that can solve their problems, but they must possess skills and knowledge to extract it from the Internet. At the same time, they must also have technical expertise to operate computers and related components.
Therefore, fixing the digital divide requires stakeholders to create a digital society. Sara Bernard observed that the landscape of digital divide has changed today (1). Technology has become more widespread and common across America. As a result, there are significant expectations among the public from technological innovation. Americans, however, may not realize these positive expectations from technologies if the digital divide gap continues to widen and the society fails to narrow the disparity. In this regard, society must promote online contents that can transform the lives of users and encourage digital literacy.
America leads the world in closing the digital divide. Nevertheless, there are critical issues it must address through effective policy formulation that involves all stakeholders because the gap will not fix itself. Many Americans understand that ICTs and technologies are not solutions or quick fixes to their challenges, but rather they are tools for improving their lives. Therefore, it is important to ensure that underprivileged Americans can gain access to modern technologies and education that can transform the quality of their lives. This implies that the argument that technology will fix its own challenges is invalid.
Bernard, Sara. Crossing the Digital Divide: Bridges and Barriers to Digital Inclusion. 2011.
Choemprayong, Songphan. “Closing Digital Divides: The United States’ Policies.” Libri 56.4 (2006): 201-212. Print.
Day, Lori. Bridging the New Digital Divide. 2013.