Really? IBM Predicts the End of the Digital Divide in 5 Years

By Gahran, Amy | St. Joseph News-Press, January 17, 2012 | Go to article overview

Really? IBM Predicts the End of the Digital Divide in 5 Years


Gahran, Amy, St. Joseph News-Press


(CNN) -- IBM recently released its annual 5 in 5 list, in which the technology company tries to predict emerging trends and technologies that will transform our lives over the next five years.

No. 4 on this year's list concerned mobile technology. Specifically, IBM says that, thanks to mobile technology, the digital divide will soon cease to exist.

In a video, IBM put it this way: "In our global society, the wealth of economies are decided by the level of access to information. And in five years, the gap between information haves and have-nots will cease to exist due to the advent of mobile technology."

The digital divide (a term that refers to the gap between people who do and don't have high-speed Internet access) is an increasingly important issue for the nation, the economy and the world. Without Internet access, it's getting harder to apply for jobs, get an education, stay in touch with friends and family -- and keep up with news that affects your life.

Still, it will probably take much longer than five years -- if ever -- for significant inequities in access to digital information and services to disappear entirely. The digital divide may look quite different in five years, but it will probably still be with us.

Here's why:

Mobile phones can help close the digital divide, but using the Internet on a phone has some drawbacks.

That's a point Kathryn Zickhur makes in an upcoming report on the digital divide for the Pew Internet and American Life project.

"Mobile Internet users experience the Internet differently because they have a small screen and often slower data connections. But they tend to always have their device with them -- which means they can constant access to information," she said. "So mobile net users might not be able to engage with certain online services as easily as they could on a laptop computer, but they do have more ubiquitous access."

In the draft of the forthcoming Pew report, Zickhur adds: "Once someone has a wireless device, they become much more active in how they use the Internet, as well as how they use the Internet to connect with others. These mobile users go online not just to find information but to share what they find and even create new content much more than they did before."

Pew also found that a substantial portion of U.S. adults are choosing smartphones over computers for Internet access.

According to the report: "Young adults, minorities, those with no college experience, and those with lower income levels, in addition to being more likely to use smartphones, are also more likely to say that their phone is their main source of Internet access. ... About one third of these 'cell mostly' Internet users do not have a traditional high-speed broadband connection at home. For them, their smartphone is a way for them to bridge that digital divide. …

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