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Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have emerged as the most important tools for development through their ability to connect people to information and knowledge. Through inventions such as the internet, people’s lives have been transformed and the world has been converted into a global village.
Policy makers and scientists agree that ICT can play an important role in promoting development in a country. However, for this positive role of ICT to be realized, people have to enjoy adequate access to the ICT resources. As it currently stands, there is a great disparity in access between nations and this has led to a digital divide.
These divide has been driven by socio-economic climates with the developed countries benefiting greatly from technology while developing countries do not enjoy the benefits accrued from the utilization of ICTs. This paper will discuss the importance of improving the Digital Divide between all countries of different socio-economic climates. It will begin by defining what the digital divide is and proceed to highlight some of the negative impacts of this divide.
Digital Divide: A Definition
The term divide is used to indicate a disparity between two parties in some context. Pick and Azari (2008) define the digital divide as the “rapidly growing disparities in the utilization, expenditure, and availability of technology between individuals, businesses, and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels” (p.91). As at 2004, the World Economic Forum reported that 88% of internet users were individuals from developed nations and this set of nations made up only 15% of the world population (Pick & Azari, 2008).
This points to a major division in the intensity of ICT utilization in the world. There are two major types of digital divides. The first is the absolute difference in telecommunication infrastructure between nations while the second is the disparity within a nation between those who have effective access to communication resources and those who do not.
Impacts of Digital Divide
The digital divide puts the poorer nations that are unable to afford the relevant technology and the poor households who do not have effective access to communication resources available in their countries at a disadvantage. Because of the digital divide, most developing countries suffer from an acute lack of individuals with IT skills.
The countries are therefore unable to make use of the vast amount of information that is accessible through the internet. Such countries continue to lurk behind when compared to the developing nations that have this valuable information at their disposal. Research indicates that millions of people in Africa do not have access to the internet and without this ability to communicate effectively; the continent will remain “poor and isolated, lacking the basic means to participate in the global society” (Allam 2007, p. 341).
In a world that is striving to create equality among all people, the digital divide promotes inequalities. Stevenson (2009) notes that “the socioeconomic demographics of the digital divide reproduce earlier inequalities based on class, race, and gender” (p.1). The digital divide is therefore not only limited to technology but it has the effect of accentuating the aforementioned inequalities.
The link between access to ICT and economic well-being is elaborated by The Herald (2012) which reports that more than 90% of American adults of a upper middle class economic level had wired high-speed internet at their homes. This is in contrast to the poor who have to rely on public access computing services in places such as libraries.
The lack of adequate ICTs in developing countries has decreased the efficiency of many companies and made the cost of doing business prohibitive for some. Due to the digital divide, some organizations have limited exposure to information technology. Their expenses are higher since they do not have the adequate information to run efficiently and effectively.
Organizations are at times unable to take advantage of technological advances and they continue to be disadvantaged at the global market. These companies are also unable to make adequate profits due to inequitably distribution of ICT resources. Pick and Azari (2008) observe that there is an uneven distribution of the benefits of ICT between developing and developed counties and this has a bearing on the productivity of companies in the respective countries.
Importance of Improving the Digital Divide
Improving the digital divide will provide nations with the knowledge needed to fuel their development. Information plays a crucial role in today’s knowledge based economy. It has become an essential component in the realization of a sustainable economic growth especially in the developing nations of the world.
Allam (2007) argues that information, which is available easily and efficiently through well-developed ICTs, can lead to knowledge and this knowledge acts as the basis for development. By bridging the digital divide, all countries will have the opportunity to access this vast pool of information and knowledge available online. By doing this, the nations will experience economic growth as they exploit the knowledge provided through ICTs.
The developed nations of the world have achieved their impressive economic growth and productivity due to technological changes. Through aggressive utilization of communication technologies, businesses and industries in these countries have been able to reshape themselves and enhance their efficiency and effectiveness.
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Pick and Azari (2008) assert that the expansion of ICT has stimulated productivity by shortening product life cycles for manufacturers and reducing the importance of distance while conducting business. Improving the digital divide will ensure that developing nations have the same opportunity to enjoy efficiency and heightened productivity. As such, countries will be able to compete on an international level more proficiently if the digital divide is reduced or done away with completely.
Improving the digital divide will give all nations an opportunity to benefit economically from e-commerce, which is fast becoming the future of business. The business world today is significantly influenced by the e-commerce phenomenon that offers many major advantages to businesses everywhere.
For this new way of doing business to take place, participants must have good telecommunications networks that will enable them to conduct business deals, share commercial information, and maintain business relationships (Zwass 2003). The efficiency and convenience offered by e-commerce has made it very attractive to the market and consumers and businesspeople in developing countries have exploited this technology to their advantage.
As such, the industrialized countries have been the main beneficiaries of e-commerce due to their well-developed ICT infrastructure. If the digital divide is improved, developing nations will also be able to benefit from such opportunities. Day (2009) observes that by encouraging small and medium sized businesses in developing countries to embrace e-commerce, economic growth can be promoted in the country.
The very act of improving the digital divide will lead to a creation of many jobs and business opportunities for the community. Bridging the digital divide will require a marked improvement in the telecommunication infrastructure of the nation in question and an increase in the level of skills for using ICT (Norris 2001).
Improving infrastructure will make use of the local labour force, which will be utilized in the physical setting up of communication devices. Once the infrastructure is in place, people will have to be trained to become adept at utilizing ICT resources. This will lead to the creation of a new market for trainers who will be responsible for developing the labour force proficient in the use of ICT.
Improving the digital divide will increase the learning opportunities for the citizens of the country regardless of their socioeconomic status. Technological advances over the decade have made it possible to engage in innovative methods of education such as online learning.
Online education has not only made education accessible to more people but it has also decreased the cost of education significantly. Traditionally, people of low-income standings have been locked out of education due to its relatively high cost. With technology, education is relatively cheaper and therefore within the reach of this lower income group.
In addition to this Haythornthwaite (2004) asserts that through online education, the capacity of educational institutions can be expanded therefore overcoming the problem of resource limitation that many developing nations face. Increased learning opportunities will translate to increased job opportunities for the citizens of the nation therefore improving the economic status of individuals and the nation as a whole.
Improving the digital divide will ensure that all world citizens are given equal opportunity to benefit from ICT resources. The current disparities that exist have led to a scenario where some are empowered through their limitless access to ICT while others suffer from a lack of access to ICT. The individuals with access have been able to improve their livelihood through the ICT and continue to access even more oncoming technology.
On the other hand, the other group suffers from limited development due to the lack of access. This later group is mostly confined to the developing countries, which do not have adequate access to the information and communication technologies that are needed to improve their livelihoods. If the digital divide is bridged, this disenfranchised group will have the opportunities needed to participate in an information society and economy with positive outcomes for their livelihoods.
Improving the digital divide will lead to better governance since it will lead to societies that are more democratic. Couldry (2007) suggests that the digital divide has a consequence on the working of democracy with inequality of access being accompanied by less accountability and non-democratic governance. Increased access to the ICT and especially the internet will enhance the creation of democratic society by fostering public participation in the issues of governance.
Through the internet, people who were previously voiceless will have a say in their government and engage more in the decision making process. Bridging the digital divide will ensure that more people are able to access common spaces where they can safely and confidently engage with each other on public issues (Couldry 2007). ICT will also provide the administration with a more effective way of providing feedback to citizens. The values of democracy will therefore be promoted by improving the digital divide.
Improving the digital divide might lead to the resolution of the social inequalities that have plagued society for centuries. In the attempt to bridge the digital divide, the deeper social inequalities will have to be addressed. Stevenson (2009) elaborates that improving the digital divide will entail more than just providing access to ICTs for members of the society who previously lacked this access.
Even if the populations at risk are given access to ICTs, they might be unable to use it to significantly improve their life-chances if the issues of social or economic inequality are not addressed. Stevenson (2009) declares that while addressing the problem of physical access is a step in the right direction, it must be augmented by the resolution of deeper social inequalities. Bridging the digital divide will therefore lead to a lasting solution to inequality issues.
The ICT revolution that has taken place over the last decade has led to immense benefits being enjoyed globally. However, these benefits of ICT have been confined to some sections of society therefore creating a digital divide. This paper set out to discuss the importance of improving the digital divide. It has noted that bridging the digital divide will be integral to the acceleration of economic growth and development in most developing countries.
From the discussions given in this paper, it is clear that improving the digital divide will lead to many benefits for nations and individuals from all socioeconomic groups. Governments and organizations should therefore engage in steps to implement solutions that will eliminate the digital divide and therefore ensure that all people enjoy the benefits of ICT.
Allam, A. 2007, ‘Open Access Towards Bridging the Digital Divide–Policies and Strategies for Developing Countries’, Information Technology for Development, vol. 13, no.4, pp. 337–361.
Couldry, N. 2007, ‘New Media for Global Citizens’, The Future of the Digital Divide Debate, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 249-261.
Day, A. 2009, Large organisations role in bridging the digital divide. Web.
Haythornthwaite, C. 2004, Learning, culture, and community in online education: research and practice, Peter Lang, Quebec.
Norris, P. 2001. Digital divide: Civic engagement, information poverty, and the Internet worldwide. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Pick, J. B. & Azari, R. 2008, ‘Global Digital Divide: Influence of Socioeconomic, Governmental, and Accessibility Factors on Information Technology’, Information Technology for Development, vol. 14 no.2, pp. 91–115.
Stevenson, S. 2009, ‘Digital Divide: A Discursive Move Away from the Real Inequities’, The Information Society, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 1–22.
The Herald 2012, Bridging the digital divide. Web.