How the Digital Divide Impacts the Global Economy

For those unfamiliar with the Digital Divide, it is a term used to express the differences in access to technology based on socioeconomic variables. In other words, it’s traditionally defined as the difference in Internet access between the haves versus the have nots. The term has evolved to include the variance in the use of technology by those between 65 and 80, and those over 80. According to Pew Research, those younger than 80 are more likely to embrace technology than those who are over 80. Hence, the definition has expanded to include those who choose not to engage in today’s digital technology.

Not a surprise considering it was the people between the ages of 65 to 80 who created the Internet, and began an age of information technology that was unprecedented, until the desktop computer became a household item. Those over 80 have little concept of how the technology evolved after that. A pen and paper still serve their purpose. That is something they feel more comfortable using and, as technology evolved, their comfort level did not evolve with it.

brendan-church-180943But does the same resistance to engage in technology also hold true for countries? According to the State of the Internet Report produced by Akamai, it does. But for different reasons. For instance, in Columbia, affordability is extremely high, but usage does not compare to that of other countries, like the US, where affordability is less high, but usage is much higher than in Columbia.

If countries, such as Columbia, have the same experience with technology as I see in the schools in Detroit versus the schools in Colorado’s suburbs, access to high speed internet is limited by undercapacity of fiber optic networks, or budgetary constraints. To complicate matters, the equipment and software used can be so outdated, it serves no purpose if the processor in a computer cannot match the speed the Internet delivers. I worked in one school today that had some of those old boxy monitors in the computer lab, and one of the computers is still running Microsoft Vista, which is no longer supported by Microsoft.

Which reminds me of the time I was sitting in the beauty shop and one of the clients was complaining, as she sat in the chair across from me, because her daughter was sent home with an iPad over the summer for reading assignments. The Detroit schools can only dream of iPads for every student.

In both situations, the ability to compete in school, or the global job markets, is severely affected by financial constraints, or institutions being forced to use technology that is too slow for comfort. In the end, those who seek to better themselves have been placed at a severe disadvantage over those who take technology use and it’s access for granted.

pj-accetturo-172484In many countries, like Haiti, the World Wide Web is accessed, most often, through cell phones that don’t provide the same functionality as a laptop or desktop computer. For instance, it is more difficult to apply for a job on a cell phone than on a computer. On the other hand, cell phones and tablets are the reason why good old fashioned books still thrive in a retail market that has suffered because of advances in technology. Sure, we can read a book on our phones, eReaders, or tablets, but there is something less complicated and more comforting about being able to get lost in the proverbial page-turner.


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