By Seongbin B. and Genesee P.
In the twenty first century, people are living in information-oriented society. Information Technology (IT) provides us huge amount of useful information and makes life much more convenient. More seriously, Information Technology is used in almost every field, and most workers in various fields cannot work without it. Ordinary people also feel inconvenient when they cannot use IT devices such as a cell phone or a computer. This means that Information technology not only brings more convenience to the society but also creates serious social problems. The digital divide is one of these serious problems. It refers to the gap between people who can effectively use and benefit from Information Technology and people who cannot. The term is a social construction that emerged in the latter half of the 1990s after the Internet came into the public.
Actually, the digital divide emerges in various dimensions. On the surface, it refers to the availability of the hardware and the software of Information Technology. For example, in 2003, about 62% of people in the U.S. have computer in their house. On the other hand, in India, only 7% of Indians have computer in their houses (Fox 4). These numbers obviously show a huge gap between two countries’ ability of using Information Technology. However, more importantly, the digital divide also refers to the ability of gathering information and manipulating technical resources. The reason why the digital divide became a big worldwide issue is that this disparity in information assessment creates serious social inequality among people and limits the way people socialize.
First of all, the digital divide limits communication among people because the Internet became one of the biggest ways of communication. Email is a typical example of online communication. In many companies, schools, and public institutions send important document by email. Moreover, sending and reading email is the most popular use of the Internet. More than 91%of Internet users use email, and 56% of them read or send email every single day. However, even though the use of email has become such a seamless part of everyday life of the Internet users, and it is hard to imagine life without it, only 25% world population have email account. In addition, more than 50% of people aged between 18 to 29 use email every day, but about 82% of people aged 61 or more rarely use or never use the email (Jones 5). The inequality of using email brings delay on communication and limits people to socialize to others.
Many College students are also employed full-time to help pay for their classes and therefore only have time to take classes that are available online. Although research says that 85% of college students own their own computers, what about the other 15% that can’t afford one? Students travel great distances from their homes to get to campus and to use the libraries computers for online classes, most of them using public transportation. This limits their availability of access to the Internet, not only trying to get to campus before public transportation shuts down, but also getting there before the library closes. Once again the social divide is having a huge effect on our Education.
Another negative effect of digital divide is that maintaining relationship with others is very hard without using these website as social networking websites such as Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter became popular for many people. Recently, many of the Internet users receive their important messages through social networking websites. Since the Smartphone and Tablet PC have come into wide use, people spend more time to write and read on these sites. According to the survey released by the Pew Research Center, 50% of Americans use social networking websites, and 65% of them check the websites every day. However, this means other 50% of people who do not use these sites have difficulty to maintain relationship with people who use these sites (Hampton 8).
In addition to maintaining current relationship, without the Internet access, it is becoming more restricted to have a new relationship. Actually, a huge number of people depend on the Internet to meet new people. Not only can you “choose” your new friends based on their physical appearance in their photos by comparing yourself to them, but many people apply this towards finding a romantic partner as well. A recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that, among Internet users who are single and looking for romantic partners, 74% say they have used the Internet to facilitate their romantic interests and about 43% of those who use the sites have actually gone on a face-to-face date (Madden 9). Individuals are basing their newfound romantic interests off of what is appealing to the eye and not focusing enough on the important components that build a healthy relationship. Some find it very easy to start a conversation with another on the Internet, due to the fact that they are not face-to-face and lead them to say things they normally wouldn’t in person. The Web has become the fourth most popular strategy in finding a date or a romantic partner. Many people also use Social Networks as a way to vent their feelings and can put a major strain on their existing relationships if misinterpreted. The misunderstanding of comments written to other individuals can end relationships or have even been found to have a higher risk of leading to infidelity.
The worst and most significant result of the digital divide is that it increases income inequality, and this disparity limits social relationships among different social stratum. After the Internet was offered to public domain, information became the most important value in business. Gathering more information and faster guarantees its success. For instance, people who use the Internet and other IT devices such as Smartphone and Tablet PC can easily access to information all over the world. By using these devices, they can check the most newly updated news more quickly, and it makes them respond immediately. However, the problem is that the rich can afford Internet access and advancements in technology, but the poorer members of society are not able to afford Internet access payments and IT equipment. According to the article “Disparities in access to Internet persist,” in the publication “American Teacher:”
In 2004, about 80 percent of white children age 8 and older have Internet access at home, compared to 60 percent of African American children in this age group. Similarly, 82 percent of children whose parents have a college education have home access to the Internet compared to 68 percent for children whose parents have a high school education or less. Only 8 percent of children ages 6 months to 6 years old from families with incomes of at least $75,000 a year did not have a home computer compared to 40 percent of children from homes with annual incomes between $20,000 and $29,000, and more than half (55 percent) of those from families with incomes under $20,000 a year. The rich are getting richer with the advantage of access to information through the Internet and using mobile devices, while the poorer members of society cannot keep up (Fox 1-4). As a result, due to digital divide the social polarization between the rich and the poor becomes more serious, and this make more difficult to socialize these two classes.
Fox, Susannah. Digital Divisions. Rep. Washington, D.C: Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 2005. Print.
Hampton, Keith N., Lauren Sessions Goulet, Lee Rainie, and Kristen Purcell. Social Networking Sites and Our Lives. Rep. Washington, D.C: Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 2011. Print.
Jones, Sydney. Internet Use and Email. Rep. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 28 Jan. 2009. Web. <http://pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2009/PIP_Generations_2009.pdf>.
Madden, Marr, and Amanda Lenhart. Online Dating. Rep. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 5 Mar. 2005. Web. <http://www.pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2006/PIP_Online_Dating.pdf.pdf>.