The Digital Divide and Economics
While the problem of the digital divide is certainly one with vast social implications and most certainly political ones as well, the economic aspect of this issue can not be underestimated. In fact, it can be said that it is the economics that have been the chief creator of the digital divide. It comes as little surprise that those with the least amount of power economically are usually those who possess the least technological knowledge and hardware as well. The digital divide not only has multiple issues involved with the problem, but also can be examined in a matter of scales as well. One of these scales is very large, while the other is comparatively smaller. The larger of these scales is known as the international digital divide, viewing the problem as one between countries. The smaller of the scales is the domestic digital divide, which views this as not only an international problem but one that is within countries as well. While differing in size both sides of the issue have one thing in common; economics. The economics of the digital divide must be examined on both a domestic scale, as well as an international one, and only then, can possible remedies to this issue be discovered.
While the economics of the digital divide should certainly be examined on an international level, the domestic side of this issue can not be underestimated either. When examining the economics of the digital divide on a domestic level, certain issues seem to come to the forefront. Obviously, the first issue that is thought of is “the gap between those who have access to computers and information technology (IT) and those who do not” (Servon 419). When scrutinizing the digital divide on any level, this is what is generally meant. The problem though goes deeper though. At its core the problem is one of economics. The individuals who are on the side of the divide without technology are not generally there because they choose to be, but because they lack the means to gain access to technology, or even the means to learn about it. This problem effects many people in the United States alone, not to mention other developed countries of the world. The digital divide affects both those in urban centers, and those in rural areas. One of the main issues with the digital divide is that not only does it hinder individuals from certain underprivileged groups from succeeding, but it can even make the situation for certain groups and even entire classes even worse. In fact, “many fear that the failure to address the gap will likely aggravate current levels of poverty and isolation and increase the already large gaps in education and access to opportunity between historically privileged and historically disenfranchised groups” (Servon 2001 419). So, this is not only a problem that effects the present, but if nothing is done the digital divide is also a problem that could greatly effect the future of many countries, if they do not take the domestic digital divide issue seriously.
There are ways that the gap can be closed though, and ways that it may be closing, even now. For instance: in 1998, in the United States federal government launched a program that gave 2.2 billion dollars in subsidies to public schools for the schools to get web and related communications technology. The purpose of this subsidy was to close the digital gap between poor and middle-class households by promoting computer and internet use among the poorer students, as most of the money went to the poorest schools (Koretz 2002 28). These subsidies provide a very important service. Even if most of the students in these non-affluent schools do not have computers, or communication technology in their homes, this program helped to acclimate these students to the technology, so that they will not be quite as far behind those affluent students they will be competing against in the future, whether that be in college, or the workplace. This is just one example of remedies for the domestic digital divide.
In the end it is a problem of the haves and the have-nots. This is a problem that seems to have always been in societies, but now those so-called have-nots are in danger of falling even further behind those that seem to have this technology and the technological knowledge that goes along with it. Short of governments giving technology and technological training away to any that want it, not very economical, they must institute social, and economic programs that expose those who are of less-affluent classes to technology, so they can become accustomed to it. It seems most important in the public school system, where they youth are located. In this way the future generations will have a much better chance of succeeding in the United States, or in most other countries as well. This seems the only option open to the democratic countries of the world, until this technology becomes as inexpensive and available as say, the telephone. In the end the economic aspect of the digital divide can not be ignored. In general those with more money have the technology, and those with less money do not, be they individuals, groups, or the whole lower class of a country.
While the smaller side of the digital divide is domestic in nature, the larger scale is the world, or in other words: international. This can also be called the global divide, which “refers to the divergence of internet access between industrialized and developing societies” (Norris 2001 4). Economically, the international digital divide is similar to the domestic one, in that there are haves and have-nots. In the international arena though, it involves entire countries that do not possess the resources to keep pace technologically with the economic leaders of the world. These countries that are not as wealthy, and some very poor are often called developing countries. Many of these countries are developing in many different ways. The countries are often in the midst of developing economically, but also socially, and most often politically. Of course, these are all intertwined with one another. One economic issue delves into the political arena. Of course states must have stable markets if they are to prosper economically, but “if these markets [are] to develop into large, efficient, an impersonal enterprises, then states [have] to step in, creating the rules and institutions that successful commerce [demands]”(Spar 2001 368). In other words, political stability is needed in order for countries to regulate their economies properly (Norris 2001). Without this stability countries are most likely not going to be able to close the gap of the digital divide in reference to themselves. This is, of course because they will not be able to even stabilize their own economies.
Without stable economies developing countries cannot hope to catch up to wealthier countries. After all it takes money to buy technology, and create the infrastructure needed for such new technologies, not to mention the education of the masses, so they can effectively use these new technologies. It seems there is little a country can do to bridge the gap without a stable government, but once politically stable, they do have options.
One option is the idea of leapfrogging (Adams 2003 365). This involves skipping certain generations of technology, in order to close some ground of the digital divide. One example of this is the explosion of mobile phone technology in certain countries.
Across much of Africa and Asia more people have access to phones than ever before, thanks to this technology. The only danger in leapfrogging comes in skipping certain infrastructure that could be essential to the long-term development of these developing countries. There is no easy way for developing countries to bridge the digital divide. Leapfrogging can only help, and is not a savior. These countries, in the end must invest in their economies, infrastructure, and education in order to truly bridge the digital divide.
Economically the problem of the digital divide has some similarities when examined domestically and internationally, but has many differences as well. Both require money in one form or another, although on a domestic level this comes from the government helping its people, while internationally these developing countries must somehow help themselves.