Digital Divide: The Case of Developing Countries

By Fong, Michelle W. L. | Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview

Digital Divide: The Case of Developing Countries


Fong, Michelle W. L., Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology


Introduction

When information technology became popular in applications (for automation) in the 1970s, discussions and debates on the impact of this technology were centered on 'information gaps' between developed and developing countries under the concern that world populations may soon be divided into groups of inequality--'information elite' and 'information ignorant'. However, rapid developments in ICTs (information and communication technologies) soon highlighted the greater complexities associated with this technological disparity. It came to light that technological disparity can occur within a single developed country, rather than between developed and developing countries. In addition, this disparity is not necessarily confined to computer or Internet use but may involve accessibility to other forms of ICT such as fixed line telephone, mobile phone, and pager. As a result, this awareness gave birth to another term, the 'digital divide', which encompasses a broader and more cavernous meaning than 'information gap'. 'Digital divide' began to gain popularity when it became a mainstream political topic in the US in the 1990s , and eventually, it achieved recognition as an English colloquial term in dictionaries such as 'The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary 4th edition' and 'The Penguin English Dictionary 2nd edition'. Although the term 'digital divide' has taken on a broader and more cavernous meaning than 'information gap', there have been times that the latter was used synonymously with the former.

ICT is not a panacea for all the problems of developing countries. However, digital divide has important implications for these countries as the uneven distribution of ICTs access may mean that segments or groups who have no or limited accessibility to these technologies may be denied of socioeconomic opportunities such as:

* Social equality. ICTs have the potential to dispel disadvantages that may be associated with cultural barriers. For example, ICTs may be used to improve gender equality in education. Through ICTs, girls may undertake their education through e-learning at home in a society where cultural barriers isolate girls. In addition, they may be empowered to utilize high-end technology in their economic participation in later years. (Daly, 2003, K. Chen, 2004).

* Social mobility which refers to the upward movement in status of individuals or groups based on wealth, occupation, education, or some other social variable in a society where one status is not dictated or decreed by birth of origin. Advancements in ICTs are capable of bestowing advantages in education, job-training, health-care as well as social networking and quality of life that they could make a difference between upward social mobility and a declining standard of living. In other words, ICTs could improve life for those who are within reach of these technologies.

* Economic equality. Bridging the digital divide has implications in terms of fostering economic equality, educational potential, and earning potential.

* e-democracy. ICTs can be a powerful tool for increasing transparency and facilitating information and communication processes among stakeholders. ICTs may lead to increased democratization by enabling citizens or constituents to participate in the decision-making process of policymakers and government through the electronic channel. However, e-democracy has yet to reach its ideal level of actualization in the political participation process.

* Economic Growth and Innovations. Long-term economic growth has often been associated with technological progress.

Literature Review

There were past studies that confirmed the positive relationship between ICT and economic growth (Bongo, 2005). These studies suggest that ICTs have the potential in alleviating poverty in poor countries. These technologies have also been viewed by governments and international aid agencies as important tools for national integration because they are capable of enabling greater access to health and education services, and creating economic opportunities for underprivileged population groups (Jensen, 2007; Mercer, 2001; Oberski, 2004; Reisman, Roger, & Edge, 2001; United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], 2001; The World Bank, 2001). …

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