Access to a computer is a privilege that few recognize and appreciate. To most, like myself, a personal computer and internet connection are common possessions. There is also the general stereotype that those who lack internet and computer access live in third world countries. Yet, this is not true. The technological gap is evident in all parts of the world, in both developed and developing countries. In the United States, many suffer from the digital divide. These people are deprived of the opportunity to utilize all the benefits the Internet has to offer. With the threat of the coronavirus, nearly everything has turned digital in some form these days. This rapidly growing internet access gap presents an even more critical issue now. Those without access are being left behind in society. They are forced to live in a rapidly advancing technological world with no connection to it. This is an issue that will only continue to become more relevant and pressing. It is imperative that we work together to ensure that computer and internet access is a privilege that is open to all members of society.
This technological gap is most prevalent in third world countries, so this is the subject which we will dive into first. It makes sense that the areas with the largest digital divide are undeveloped countries. Labeling a country as “third world” has now been branded a derogatory term. Today, these countries are mainly referred to as LDCs (Least Developed Countries), a term coined by the United Nations. The countries that fall within this category are classified by specific characteristics, such as their low gross national income (NGI), weak human assets, and the degree of their economic vulnerability (un.org). As of September 2020, there are 47 LDCs, accounting for over 12% of the world population and the majority of countries being in Africa. These are the countries that struggle the most with access to technology (i.e. computers, internet, mobile phones, etc.). This has been an ongoing issue since the era of personal computers. Yet, there have certainly been significant waves of improvement. In fact, Least Developed Countries experienced a jump from 51% in 2015 to 79% in 2019 in terms of access to mobile-broadband signals” (weforum.org). This is a step in the right direction, but still this is not enough considering that only “19% of people in LDCs actually use the internet, compared to 87% of people in developed countries” (weforum.org). For these countries to graduate from their status of being a “LDC”, they must be aided in technological development to be relevant in today’s world.
It is not just underdeveloped countries that struggle with access to the internet. The United States is dealing with a digital divide that according to Stanford University “is between the underprivileged members of society, especially the poor, rural, elderly, and handicapped portion of the population who do not have access to computers or the internet; and the wealthy, middle-class, and young Americans living in urban and suburban areas who have access.” (stanford.edu). This digital divide could be considered more harmful to those experiencing it in the United States in comparison to those in undeveloped countries. This is because the United States is a mecca for incredibly advanced technological development. To be relevant in our society, one must remain actively involved in the technology trends that are constantly circulating our networks. Those with little or no access quickly find themselves falling far behind as they are at quite a societal disadvantage. A solid internet connection and access to a computer is necessary for economic prosperity, job opportunities, education purposes, and so on in the United States. Take for example this year. With the spread of the coronavirus, all college campuses closed in the middle of the Spring 2020 term. As a result, students were forced off campus and classes transitioned to an online setting. Those students who did not have a personal computer or good Wi-Fi connection were at a total disadvantage. Many had to jump through hoops in order to access an adequate online education. A study developed by Boston Consulting Group found that “Approximately 15 million to 16 million K-12 public school students, or 30% of all public K-12 students, live in households either without an internet connection or device adequate for distance learning at home” (commonsensemedia.org). When school was transitioned online due to the coronavirus, these “15 million to 16 million K-12 public school students” were the ones left behind. This is a number that cannot be overlooked. Those 15 million children (about twice the population of New Jersey) deserve equal education no matter their financial standing or background. To better represent the issue at hand in the United States, let us break the US into 3 parts: urban, rural, and tribal. Data gathered by the Federal Communications Commission found that “In urban areas, 97% of Americans have access to high-speed fixed service. In rural areas, that number falls to 65%. And on Tribal lands, barely 60% have access. All told, nearly 30 million Americans cannot reap the benefits of the digital age.” (fcc.gov). These “nearly 30 million Americans” are unable to participate in many aspects of life that have been digitalized, and as a result, they will not be able to progress in society the same as those on the other side of the technological gap.
To reinforce the extreme significance of this digital divide, I would like to discuss two studies pertaining to the relationship between success and technology access. The first study analyzes the influence of internet use in relation to academic success. Specifically, it deals with 4,697 students from 5 different universities in Ecuador. The study was performed by creating 2 categories to analyze: the use of the Internet in academic activities and in entertainment. The results are as follows: “People who perform interactive activities with peers and teachers or use in a balanced way the different internet tools tend to have more academic success than those who only seek information. Regarding the use of the Internet in entertainment, a positive impact was found on academic achievement. Students who download audio, video and software, and students who use all the entertainment possibilities show less likely to fail than those who use minimal Internet” (eprints.rclis.org). From this we can conclude that by utilizing all the tools available to us on the internet, we are able to perform at a higher level of intellect.
The second study was performed by the University of Washington Information School. It lasted 5 years and involved 8 countries, ranging from low to middle income status. Rather than focusing solely on students and their academic success, this study involved people in all stages of life and diverse backgrounds. The researchers surveyed 5,000 computer users at locations such as libraries and cyber cafes. They also surveyed 2,000 non computer users and 1,250 operators of public access internet venues. This cumulation of research was conducted to examine the patterns of public access use. Their findings are as follows: “Public access venues were the only source of the Internet for one-third of users surveyed and provided the first-ever computer contact for more than half of those users. More than half said their use of computers would decrease if public access venues were no longer available, and about half cited a lack of computer access as their main reason for using public venues. Forty percent of users surveyed said public access venues had been crucial to their development of computer skills, and half said the same of learning Internet skills.” (washington.edu). From these conclusions, we can see that access to computers/Internet is a crucial element in relation to societal success and progress.
So now that we realize the impact that the current digital divide has across the world, let us get into the specifics of the why there is a technology gap. One argument is that globalization does not provide equal benefit to all parts of the world. Globalization is defined as “the increasing integration of world economies through the expansion of trade, investment, technology, labor, and knowledge” (tifwe.org). The central claim for this anti-globalization stance is that the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. They believe that the emerging technology benefits the modern world and only them. With the widening digital divide, underdeveloped countries are left behind when not properly equipped with technology. Although much of this argument is not based on facts, the people against globalization do have a point. Globalization needs to be inclusive of all countries, both developed and undeveloped regardless of their economic and technological status. This means that the countries, such as the United States, which is considered one of the most powerful nations, need to step up and take these underdeveloped countries under their wing. For globalization to be successful, we must not leave behind any country. In order to do that, we must ensure that each country is receiving the tools, aid, and resources needed to promote and develop technological advancement.
Now we must ask ourselves how we can accomplish this. There are many answers to this. However, the one resounding answer is cooperation. In order for the digital divide to be eliminated, we must come together as one to fight it. The United Nations touched on this topic with the statement “Our task lies in supporting LDCs in order to make access to technology and knowledge available to everyone, and to unleash the potential of people’s creativity and ingenuity” (un.org). A major way that the United Nations has contributed to lessening the digital divide is by establishing the Technology Bank for Less Developed Countries, which began in September of 2017. The mission for this organization is to help LCDs by “building their STI (science, technology, and innovation) capacity; foster national and regional innovation ecosystems; support homegrown research and development; facilitate market access; build capacity in the area of intellectual property rights; and assist with the transfer of appropriate technologies” (un.org). On a smaller scale, what can we as individuals do to help? Well first, we can start by making this a discussion in our everyday conversations. This issue will only be resolved through recognition. We must bring attention to the digital divide to lessen it. Another thing you may be able to do is talk to your place of employment about ways the company may get involved with charities that help increase computer access in underprivileged communities. You can also reach out to charitable organizations. We must avoid ignorance when it comes to the technology gap. It is easy to brush something off when it does not directly affect you. Yet the only way this issue will ever be resolved is if we work together to eliminate it.
Chandra, Sumit, and Amy Chang. “CLOSING THE K–12 DIGITAL DIVIDE IN THE AGE OF DISTANCE LEARNING.” Common Sense Media, Boston Consulting Group, www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/uploads/pdfs/common_sense_media_report_final_6_29_12-42pm_web_updated.pdf.
“Digital Divide.” Overview of the Digital Divide, Stanford University, cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs181/projects/digital-divide/start.html.
Eby, Baylee. “Does Globalization Harm the Poor?” Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, 4 Apr. 2016, tifwe.org/does-globalization-harm-the-poor/.
Kelley, Peter. “Global Study Stresses Importance of Public Internet Access.” UW News, University of Washington, 16 July 2013, www.washington.edu/news/2013/07/10/global-study-stresses-importance-of-public-internet-access/.
Samantha, Sault. “What Are the Challenges in Making Tech More Sustainable?” World Economic Forum, 20 Sept. 2020, www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/what-are-the-challenges-in-making-new-technology-more-sustainable/.
Torres-Diaz, Juan-Carlos, et al. “Internet Use and Academic Success in University Students.” Comunicar, Media Education Research Journal, 2016, eprints.rclis.org/29614/1/c4806en.pdf.
Utoikamanu, Fekitamoeloa. “Closing the Technology Gap in Least Developed Countries.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/en/chronicle/article/closing-technology-gap-least-developed-countries.