Guide to the Digital Divide: Causes, Impact, and Solutions

Published: March 15, 2017 - 9:00am EDT

Image of baby in mobile device in front of aged-woman

You may have heard the term “digital divide” thrown around in conversation or online, but what exactly does it mean? How can something that is seemingly readily available to everyone, and introduced to the world at the same time (the Internet, and new forms of technology) be seen so differently by so many? How is it that one person can pick up a smartphone and seemingly intuitively know how to use it while another can look at it, not even certain of what its purpose is?

In an ever-changing world focussed on what’s newer, faster, and better – how does one keep up with technological trends, especially when you don’t fully understand the devices and programs you’re expected to be able to use? How can educators keep up with the rate at which their students understand technology, and feel the need to integrate it into their lives? How can countries that never got a jump start on funding initiatives for Internet access or increasing digital literacy keep up with the rest of the world?

In this guide, we aim to answer all of these questions, and give you a thorough and in-depth understanding of what the digital divide is, and most importantly, a digital divide definition, how it’s caused, the impact it has on various groups, and solutions for minimizing this divide. This subject is of increasing importance, and we want you to be fully in the know. Read on the learn more about the impact of the digital divide.

What is the digital divide?

The digital divide is a gap created between different demographics of people in their ability to understand, access and effectively use technology. This inequality in ability can be due to a variety of factors, including age, country of origin or residence, exposure to technology, available income, and motivation.

When referencing the digital divide, people are often referring to the fact that there is a noticeable difference between two groups of people, those who know how to use technology, and those who don’t or can’t. Many often attribute this divide to age alone, believing that people who are older do not have the ability to use technology, but this is very reductionist. In fact, many seniors are able to learn to use technology, and have integrated technology and digital devices into their daily routines. Meanwhile, many of the world’s youth lack the ability to use technology effectively, usually due to exposure.

5 causes of the digital divide

Now that you understand the basic concept, let’s dive into an explanation of the reasons for why this divide occurs. As we noted above, there are a variety of factors, and they all impact people in different ways. We’ve narrowed down the list to these five major causes, to help you better understand the causes of the digital divide.

1. Ready access to the Internet, and the ability to pay for it.

For many, the Internet is constantly at their fingertips. Having the ability to use devices constantly, even sometimes as a requirement of their jobs is simply a reality. But for the other half of the world, this is not the case. Only 40% of the world has ready access to the Internet, and 90% of those online live in Asia, North America, or Europe, according to this helpful website with Internet usage statistics.

These statistics make it obvious that the digital divide in the world varies by country, region, and even the continent that you live in. At least five countries in the world have less than 2% of their population online, while others, like Iceland, claim 99%+.

It’s also important to remember that even in countries where the majority of the population is online, in rural or remote areas, it can still be incredibly difficult to get Internet access. Not to mention that the Internet can be incredibly expensive to have in your home, so many people simply can’t afford it, or don’t see it as a necessity.

A rural classroom

Government funding and infrastructure, as well as initiatives to get more people online have a huge affect on people’s ability to understand and utilize technology. To learn more about this, check out Digital Inclusion, who work tirelessly to change government policies to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to access information and communication technologies, If you want to learn more about these statistics, or find information on a specific country, check out InternetLiveStats.com.

2. Learning digital literacy at a younger age through exposure.

It wasn’t until about the mid-1990s that most educational systems began including computer studies as a requirement for students, and even when that was occurring, available funding greatly affected the ability for educational institutions to provide computers for schools for student use. Though not everyone gained this kind of access to technology, many people did, which greatly improved their ability to understand technology.

Over the next decade, computers and mobile devices started to become available everywhere. And those who lived in developed countries and attended schools with computers were at a greater advantage in utilizing the devices that were now so easily available. Those who grew up with the devices available to them, and even sometimes were required to learn how to use them according to their school’s curriculum, had increased digital literacy.

Young boy using a tablet

3. Expenses for hardware, including computers, mobile devices, etc.

Paying to have access to the Internet is expensive enough, but that’s not the sole expense when it comes to mastering technology. You must possess a personal device such as a computer, laptop, tablet, mobile phone, or other device to utilize the Internet.

In addition, not possessing mobile devices greatly contributes to the digital divide because the use of apps has become so normative, that it is almost an essential component of understanding the Internet and basic technology. With that comes many additional fees such as paying for apps and some websites that make your life easier.

Money sitting on a laptop

Not everyone has the means to pay for these constant ongoing fees, and for the use of the Internet. Disposable income that can be put towards technology is one of the biggest contributors to the digital divide.

4. Motivation: having enough spare time to learn, and general interest.

Though there are people all over the world without the income, exposure, or means to access technology, there are some who have all of this, and simply have no motivation to try, or interest in learning. This is actually a much bigger factor than it would first seem.

Many people don’t see technology as a necessity, quite simply, because human beings have survived thus far without a need for the Internet. Many people also feel that they are “too busy” to take the time to learn, or that it would be so complicated that it would take more time to learn how to use technology than would be worth it. Because the tech industry changes at such an exponential rate, the longer you wait to learn, the larger the gap becomes – and the harder it is to keep up with the constantly changing trends.

Frustrated woman in front of a laptop

5. Actively following technology trends on the Internet.

Many people who feel they have made an effort to learn how to use technology, their computers, or the Internet will try to solve one problem immediately when they need to, learn one or two skills in the process, and then stop – rather than actively try to learn, or learn more.

Those who keep learning, read a whole article about things related to what they have just learned (rather than reading the quick instructions to solve a problem), and use their spare time to “Google” things they don’t know to learn more, more easily close the gap, while those who only try to solve problems in the moment don’t.

There are also many websites available to help you keep up with trends, learn about new devices, and teach you how to use popular websites and apps. We would obviously recommend our own website, but there are a few others that could be quite helpful to you as well.

TechBoomers

TechBoomers (our own website) is intended to help those who lack certain technological inclinations to easily learn how to use popular websites, apps, and devices – all for free, always. We have over 100 free courses on TechBoomers.com that can help you, and we’re adding more and more everyday. Our articles can also help you make decisions about which apps or sites are best for you, and what they can do to make your life easier.

DigitalTrends

If you simply want to keep up with all the newest goings on in technology, DigitalTrends.com is probably for you. Though it won’t help you learn how to use things, it can teach you a lot about them, and help you figure out what the best products for you might be.

TechRadar

Similar to DigitalTrends, TechRadar.com gives you buying advice for all the newest gadgets and devices. It’s also full of articles relating to the best deals, best alternatives to products you may not understand, and any news updates you need to know about the latest and greatest in technology.

Lynda

Lynda.com is website owned by LinkedIn, and has hundreds of lessons that can help you improve your technological abilities. Most of their courses are focussed on helping you succeed in the workplace, but many also focus on specific websites, apps, or even basic computer skills. If you think this would be a good resource for you, we’ve got a free course on how to use Lynda.com.

GCF Learn Free

GCF Learn Free gives its users free access to over 125 free courses on GCFLearnFree.com, much like TechBoomers. However, GCF Learn Free has many courses on basic computer skills, like typing, using email, and using operating systems like Mac, Windows, and Linux.

You could also try participating in things like Digital Learning Day – on February 23rd, to get inspired to increase your digital literacy.

Impact of the digital divide: just how much will it affect your life

So, you’re clear on the causes, but what about the effects of the digital divide, and how it will impact you, and your everyday life? It may seem a trivial concept to many, but increasing your digital literacy and closing the gap can drastically change your life.

On a global scale, Internet access can great improve the overall functionality and organization of entire countries. Accessing the Internet constantly can help to increase literacy rates (including digital literacy), and helps make connections with the rest of the world more easily. Some take these ideas for granted, but even today, more than half of the world doesn’t have access to the Internet. Because of this, it is ever-increasingly important to work on and improve one’s digital literacy.

On a much smaller scale, our own personal lives are so often impacted by technology, new websites and apps, and devices we are expected to keep up with. Without acknowledging this, you’ll be missing out on a lot of ways that increasing your digital skills can help to improve your life.

4 ways increased digital literacy can improve your life:

1. Makes daily routines easy, more efficient, and saves time.

Getting yourself online can help you with many of your regular tasks and errands from home. Banking, booking travel, taking courses, shopping (and grocery shopping even!), and so much more, can all be done online. You can have almost anything delivered right to your home, and almost all major business put effort into developing a website, and/or mobile app for your use, so that you can use their products and services even more easily by getting online.

2. Increased connectivity with family and friends – on a global scale.

Having access to the Internet gives you unprecedented potential to contact your family and friends, no matter how much distance separates you. There are many free websites and apps available that allow you to have voice or video chats with your contacts – and talk as long as you want – for free. Even simply setting up an email account can drastically change how frequently and easily you can make connections with people you know.

3. Comprehension of basic tasks without the need to rely on others for guidance.

Using technology more frequently, and actively trying to increase your digital literacy skills allow you complete tasks on your own, without the need to ask others to help you. Not only is this a big self-esteem booster if you typically rely on others and then become self-dependent, but it makes your usage of technology faster and better overall, because you don’t need to wait for others to have the time to help you with things you could be waiting months to do!

4. Ability to save money in a variety of ways, including with online shopping, or completing tasks from home.

Saving money is something everyone loves – and using the Internet if often a great way to do it. Buy buying from companies online, you can save tons on overhead costs. You can also find websites that exist simply to compile coupons and deals for you. You also save time and money doing things you used to have to go out to do by staying home.

Digital divide solutions: 4 ways to close the gap

Now that you understand the causes and the impact of the digital divide, how do you stop it from becoming prevalent in your life? For your own well-being, or as an instructor, closing the gap between those who seemingly can’t understand technology, and those who intuitively know how to do everything is key. Here’s what to do!

1. Actively learn digital literacy on your own – and never stop learning.

Get motivated. You have to want to take the time to learn if you find it difficult, and if you find it easy, you have to want to continue learning. Increasing digital literacy is a life-long commitment, as the industry is always changing. Rather than focussing on how difficult it is to keep up with digital trends, remember that every change is meant to make our lives easier.

2. Teach digital literacy to others, and develop your own curriculum.

If you’re an instructor, or are thinking of starting a program to help teach digital literacy skills, you will not only enhance your own skills, but help to close the gap substantially for others. If you need to develop your own digital literacy curriculum, check out TechBoomers.com. We have helped others develop their digital learning curriculum, and you can take a look at this article to see our work in action.

3. Evaluate your means to access the Internet, and think of ways to improve it.

If money is a factor, try public access. If not, buy a new device and simply force yourself to learn how to use it. If you see others struggling, take action to try to help change policies that will help to close the digital divide.

If you’re interested in taking action in this way, be sure you check out the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, the organization they work to change policies and make information and communication technologies available to everyone. Angela Siefer, the director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, is a driving force behind Digital Inclusion, and will listen to your cause and try to help you.

4. Think of ways to integrate technology and digital literacy into your everyday routine.

To go with a simple solution, try to think of ways that digital technologies and the use of the Internet can be better integrated into your home, and into your daily life and routines. There’s no easier way to learn how to use technology than to simply sit down and try. This will ensure you won’t fall behind, and will help you close the digital divide gap.

 

 

Hopefully after reading this, you have a much better understanding of what the digital divide is, its root causes, and how you can work to close the divide, both as an individual, or as part of an organization or government structure. Improving digital literacy not only makes life simpler and more convenient, but helps us to connect with people, structures, and businesses, which as time goes on, quickly seems to be a necessary skill.

If you want to close the gap, be proactive. We can help you become a pro using hundreds of popular websites and apps with our free courses.

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