What is the digital divide? How do differences in access to information technologies affect the population? In this article we reflect on this concept and its influence in today’s globalized world.
What is the digital divide?
The digital divide refers to the difference in access to and knowledge of the use of new technologies . It is usually determined based on different criteria, for example economic, geographical, gender, age or between different social groups.
Generally, a distinction is made between the first and second digital divide. The first digital divide refers to the difference in access to new technologies. For its part, the second digital divide is related to the skills of understanding and use of these technologies by the population that has access to them.
With the advancement of the information society it seems that the digital gaps have been reduced, however they are still palpable. In some cases, they have even increased, as in the case of the digital divide due to gender or economic reasons.
Causes and factors that cause it
The causes that cause the digital divide can be encompassed based on different criteria.
On the one hand, there are the economic inequalities between different countries or regions. The high cost of adopting ICTs makes it very difficult for them to be used in less developed countries, where the main concerns focus on daily survival. In this case, we would speak of the economic digital divide .
On the other hand, there is the geographic digital divide . There are areas that, due to their location, have more difficult access to the necessary infrastructures to have adequate ICT services. For example, there is the difference between urban and rural areas. There are still rural areas without internet coverage, or where access to information technology is very limited. On the other hand, in urban areas there are many more possibilities to access them from home, in schools, parks, libraries and WiFi zones.
Labor inequality between men and women
Another factor that has influenced the digital gap is the labor inequality between men and women. The delay in the incorporation of women into the workplace has also influenced a difference in the understanding and use of new technologies between genders. In this case, the gap has been narrowing little by little, but it exists in both developed and developing societies. This is what is called the digital gender gap . This affects a series of gender inequalities that, as we explain in our guide on the Equality Plan in companies , must be eradicated.
Finally, there is the digital age gap . It is evident that younger people who were born in the era of new technologies are more accustomed to using them and considering them as part of their daily lives. However, older people have much more difficulty handling devices or equipment that have not existed for much of their lives. There are even many cases in which the older population directly avoids these technologies of their own free will.
Types of digital divide
The digital divide can be classified into three different types, which can occur separately or together.
The access gap has to do with the possibilities of access to ICTs that people have.
The causes behind the access gap are related to socioeconomic differences both between individuals and between countries, since for some as for others, going digital requires investing money, sometimes large amounts (especially in poorer or less developed countries).
Creating infrastructures that take ICTs to all corners of a country and make them available to its citizens is a costly investment, which is aggravated in less developed areas.
But we do not need to go to a developing country to find this access gap, since in rural or isolated areas it is also a problem, for example, fiber optics (very present in our cities) does not reach all corners of the Spanish geography, in which there are areas completely disconnected from the Internet.
The use gap is related to the lack of skills and abilities to be able to handle ICTs. In this case, access may be easy, but there are people who lack the necessary skills to use them properly. Although it is common for the access gap and the use gap to be related, the more difficulties there are in accessing a technology, the less knowledge and skills there are about its use.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) tells us there are 40 countries where more than half of their population do not know how to attach a file to an email.
Usage quality gap
Now, it may happen that people have access and skills to use ICT and surf the Internet and use its different functions, but, nevertheless, lack the knowledge to make a good use of these tools and thus get more out of it. information and services found on the Internet.
This is called the quality of use gap and we can see it, for example, when people don’t know how to access quality information or how to narrow their searches on a search engine.
Figures on the digital divide in the world
The ITU prepared a report in 2019 that reflects the Internet access data in the world .
In 2005, only 16% of the planet’s population had access to the internet, while in 2019 this figure has increased to 53.6%
However, these figures vary greatly depending on the region.
If we take underdeveloped or developing countries, the evolution of people with internet access has been from 8% in 2006 to 47% in 2019.
For its part, in developed countries it has gone from 51% of people with access to the network of networks in 2005, to 86.6% in 2019.
As can be seen, although in both cases internet access has been growing, the difference has remained at 40%.
In addition, it must be taken into account that the majority of the planet’s population lives in underdeveloped or developing countries, so the conclusion is that the countries where Internet access is widespread is still a minority.
One of the consequences of the digital divide in rural or remote areas is the isolation of the inhabitants. In urban areas, the opposite effect can occur, that is, an excessive dependence on ICTs that causes progressive social isolation .
The limit to access to knowledge in the area of information technology and telecommunications can also be a barrier to personal or professional development .
Another consequence of the digital divide is that it makes social inequalities more evident . Digital illiteracy can cause rejection in different areas, be it social or work.
On the other hand, the digital divide is likely to continue to increase the economic differences between the regions, since the least digitally educated will not be able to form part of the current information market, in which globalization and the Internet are king.
How to reduce the digital divide?
The reasons stated in the previous section make it essential to work to reduce the digital divide and guarantee greater access and better education in new technologies.
For this, collaboration from various fronts is essential . Governments and public administrations must encourage the creation of regulations or infrastructures that favor the reduction of the digital divide. Companies or educational institutions must also contribute their grain of sand in the training of people in ICT.
In this sense, the development of digital literacy programs is especially important , aimed at people living in isolated areas, less favored or who, due to gender or age, have not had access to technology.
On the other hand, not only literacy is important, but also digital training . In other words, it is about going one step further, providing less favored groups with the knowledge and skills necessary to enter a labor market dominated by ICTs.
For this, the creation of alliances and the development of projects is fundamental. Some examples of initiatives for digital literacy and training are A4A1, Free Basics (promoted by Facebook) or Starlink (promoted by Elon Musk).
In summary, the digital divide is not an isolated concept, but is related to economic, social and cultural inequalities. The objective must be to reduce this gap to a minimum so that we can all face the future with guarantees and with equal opportunities.
The digital gender gap: What is it?
We have pointed it out above, inequality between men and women is one of the factors of the digital divide, but in this case we are talking about the digital gender divide.
According to different studies, although the digital gender gap has been narrowing in developed countries, where access and use of ICTs are no longer a problem for the majority of the population and new generations access the same shape them, regardless of gender, the truth is that there are still inequalities between men and women in this area.
This digital gender gap (which experts call the third digital gender gap) would be related to the gender roles and stereotypes that society has about men and women and what professions each one should supposedly develop and that move away, women from pursuing technological careers since they are little, largely due to the lack of female references in these professions or the invisibility suffered by those women who dedicate themselves to them for years (something that has begun to be corrected in recent years, with different initiatives).
This has led to a much smaller presence of women in ICT-related professions than men (women only make up around 13% of ICT staff worldwide).
The digital gender gap is a problem present in all societies and in all countries, which is aggravated in those in which the digital gap of access and use occurs, together with societies, cultures and traditions where machismo is very present.
Specific consequences for women of this type of gap
One of the main consequences of the digital gender gap for women is access to employment. With increasingly specialized jobs, especially in the field of ICT, and with the automation of jobs on the not too distant horizon (58% of the jobs that can be automated in the future are for women), not having Sufficient digital skills or knowledge will make it difficult for women to find work or, for those who do find it, they will encounter new job gaps and glass ceilings.
Another consequence of the lack of female references in these professions is that it makes it difficult for girls and adolescents to be interested in this field in particular. As we have already seen, it is not a problem of access, but of representation and stereotypes.
The lack of women in IT-related professions, such as programming, AI development and machine learning , will have (in fact already have) the consequence that these systems will develop gender biases, which ends up perpetuating stereotypes and gender roles. gender.
5 proposals to reduce the digital gender gap
Reducing and closing the digital gender divide is possible, as is closing the digital divide in general. The new generations have already started down this path, thanks to the access and use they make of ICTs from a very young age (we are talking in this case about developed countries), this means that children and adolescents of both sexes have similar access to these technologies.
However, in view of the statistics, access and use is not enough to completely close the digital gender gap and therefore it is necessary to promote other measures.
Here we leave 5 proposals that can help reduce this gap:
- End stereotypes and gender roles from the field of education, so that girls do not lose interest in technological professions over time, because they are considered masculine.
- Make visible the role of women in ICT, both current, in managerial positions and in public office, and those of the past (there is a large part of current computing that has its beginnings and roots in the work and research of women).
- Promote and implement specific actions and initiatives by administrations so that ICTs and new technologies, together with the Internet, reach everyone and encourage their use.
- To reduce the digital gender gap in less favored countries, promote the donation of equipment to these countries from developed countries, so that access to ICTs is more feasible.
- In line with the previous proposal, promote digital literacy in places where women are furthest from ICTs. In developed countries, promote training programs in ICT and new technologies for those women who lack skills in them.
The above content published at Collaborative Research Group is for informational purposes only and has been developed by referring to reliable sources and recommendations from experts. We do not have any contact with official entities nor do we intend to replace the information that they emit.