Digital Divide: Challenges and Remedies
Dr Faisal Mustafa writes on the concept called “Digital Divide”
Digital Divide is an emerging concept as far as the third world countries are concerned. It was first conceived in 1990s when American president Bill Clinton called it as a “New Gap”. The term represents a spectrum of meaning. It talks about the haves and have nots. The term basically means the gap between those who are making use of information and communication technology and those who are not benefited from the ICT. The term “digital divide” was first time used in 1990 in educational circles and after that the expression getting currency gradually. According to Wilson, Carvin, Mossberger and Tolbert, “the phrase digital divide refers to a perceived inequality in access to, distribution, and use of information technology between two or more populations”. The experts had predicted that the access to ICT will break all the barriers prevailing in the societies on the basis of caste, creed, religion, etc. Although the situation is slight different and the world culture is now facing yet another typical and newer divide known as “digital divide”. Even though some experts think that it is a temporary process and it will be diminished slowly in near future. But it seems that this prediction is only a half truth.
There are number of obstructions which are responsible for this divide. These factors which are directly or indirectly influencing different populations are basically creating a vacuum within the societies. Sometimes a number of factors collectively strengthen this problem. But the fact remains that each factor is by and large responsible for this new generation division on the basis of access, usage and benefit drawn in connection with ICT. Various factors responsible are:
As the access and use of ICT is not equally available in all sectors of the world. One of the most important factors which influences and have lasting impact for creating digital divide is geographical boundaries within the nations as also within various countries of the world. Geographical boundaries act as a barrier to free flow of information to all. The urban population is benefiting more as compared to rural population which is lagging behind due to poor supply of ICT combined with other factors like less education, poverty, lack of awareness etc. It is freely prevailing in every country without any distinction of whether they are part of developed nation or developing or under developed. But the ratio of digital divide varies from one country to another. For example, the urban population of India living in major cities is comparatively far better than rural areas like villages as far as the access, usage and fruit of ICT is concerned. We can also see the variation in the quality of ICT access in various cities of any country in comparison to their villages and rural areas.
Linguistic factors are also responsible for digital divide. While most of the scientific and technological knowledge disseminated through few international languages of the world, therefore, the population of every country not conversant with these languages suffers greatly while getting the benefit from ICT. This problem is severe in those countries in which many local and regional languages are spoken. Apart from this, there is a vast majority of the population who are not even conversant with any languages of the world as far as reading is concerned. In this way lingual barrier is benefiting the digital divide.
We all are well aware that our society has divided into many sectors on the basis of economic condition. This difference is not so much visible in the societies of developed nations but it is very much evident in the countries of developing and under developed nations including India. It is also miraculous that developed nations have population with least difference in their economic conditions and at the same time they are provided with proper and cheap access to ICT. Most of inhabitants living in developed countries are financially prosperous. As the result this factor is not very evident in developed countries. But on the other hand, the nations of developing and under developed countries where the economic difference is not only noticeable and high but also these countries are provided with less ICT access. As a result the people living in these countries are amongst great sufferers. The citizens living in these countries are financially very weak and they do not make use of available ICT resources. Hence, the economic condition of the people in a particular region also assists in the growth and development of digital divide.
Cultural factors help to bring a gap between the diverse strata of the societies. It includes classification of societies into several fragments on the basis of one or other cultural background, whether this bias is due to prejudices of the past, caste system or on religious basis etc. Moreover, certain societies prohibit any kind of innovative or new act or ideas due to misconceptions attached with them. Obviously internet is one of the newer media of dissemination of information-good or bad. Due to social backwardness, a number of educated individuals do not even utilize the fruits of ICT. Thus, the cultural background of various populations serves a reason which is enhancing the digital divide.
Our society is naturally divided on the basis of their age groups and in this; we have three major groups namely: old, young and children. This peculiar but natural division is also one of the many factors which are playing a vital role in the growth and development of digital divide. Here, most of the fruits of ICT went to the younger groups due to their acquaintance with computer and internet technology as well as proper education. The rest two groups have lesser access to ICT due to multiple reasons. The children may not be considered very important as far as access and utilization of ICT is concerned because most of them use it for entertainment purposes. However, we can not neglect the least access of old groups as they are the backbone of any society. But this is misfortune for our society that this elderly class is among the worst sufferers due to various reasons. They are very reluctant to access any newer object including internet technology. They have a lot of experience but without any fruit due to rigid access to ICT. It is also true that somehow they themselves are responsible for these unequal and less utilization ICT resources.
Bridging the Digital Divide:
Whatever discussed at this stage about the factors which are creating information and communication divide are just the diagnosis of actual problem. But the most important predicament in this context is that how can we bridge this digital gulf? What are the various remedies? Who can do better effort to bridge this gap? How private sectors and NGO’s will be instrumental in bridging this divide?
Number of countries of developed nations and few countries of developing nations are already doing their level best to cope with this problem. Third world countries are also taking serious note to tackle this problem by allocating more and more budget for development of ICT. But there is very urgent need to frame a uniform policy to tackle this situation at all fronts.
(Author is Assistant Librarian at Srinagar branch of Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad)
Lastupdate on : Wed, 23 Sep 2009 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 23 Sep 2009 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 24 Sep 2009 00:00:00 IST
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