The Digital Divide refers to the inequalities between people who have access to and the resources to use modern information and communication technology (ICT), such as desktop computers and the Internet, and people who do not. This includes those who have, and those who do not have, the necessary skills, knowledge and abilities to use ICT to advance their knowledge and achieve their desired objectives.
The divide exists between economic classes, between those living in urban and those living in rural areas, and between those who are educated and those who are not; and on a global scale, between industrial and so-called ‘developing’ countries.
“WE HAVE ENTERED THE KNOWLEDGE SOCIETY AND EVERYONE MUST HAVE ACCESS TO PARTICIPATE. THE INTERNET IS THE MOST POWERFUL POTENTIAL SOURCE OF ENLIGHTENMENT EVER CREATED. GOVERNMENTS MUST REGARD IT AS BASIC INFRASTRUCTURE, JUST LIKE ROADS, WASTE AND W A T E R . ”
There are many possible explanations for the divide, for example gender, age, education, income, race, and location, as well as to political, religious or cultural factors (including politicians and technocrats fear of the public having unfettered access to the Internet). These days people can connect to the Internet via a desktop computer, laptop, cell phone, iPod or other MP3 player, Xbox or Play Station, electronic book reader, or tablet such as iPad. Once an individual has access, and can decipher, understand and use the information that is available ,that individual is capable of becoming a ‘digital citizen’.
GROWING KNOWLEDGE DIVIDE
With internet cafes popping up in ever more remote towns and villages, and barriers due to gender, age, etc. reducing in many countries, the digital divide appears to be shifting from a gap in access/connectivity to a ‘knowledge divide’. In the Rich World there is the gap between those who have the skills and understanding to interact with the technology and those who are effectively passive consumers of it.
Technologies like Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and Blogs enable users to create content online without having to understand much about the technology.
Many users do little more than post photos and status updates on their Facebook page and do not interact to any degree with the technology. And in the Poor World, the gap is with those who lack the education or perhaps the language skills to use ICT.
Why Closing the Digital Divide is Important
Economic equality: access to the Internet is a basic component of civil life that some developed countries aim to guarantee for their citizens (see below). Vital information relevant to people’s careers, lifestyles, safety, etc. are increasingly provided via the Internet. Even social welfare services are sometimes administered and offered electronically.
Social mobility: computers and computer networks are playing an increasingly important role in people’s learning, professional work and career development. Education should therefore cover computing and use of the Internet. Democracy: the use of the Internet can lead to a healthier democracy, increased public participation in elections and decision making processes.
Economic growth: the development and active use of information infrastructure offers a shortcut to economic growth for less developed nations. Information technologies tend to be associated with productivity improvements and may give industries a competitive advantage.
INTERNET ACCESS IN SOUTH AFRICA
The South African Internet user population passed the 20-million mark for the first time last year, reaching 21-million, and is expected to grow to at least 22.5-million in 2018.
This is the main finding of the Internet Access in South Africa 2017 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Dark Fibre Africa (DFA),
the country’s leading provider of wholesale fibre connectivity.
Based on Stats SA’s estimate that the South African population reached 55.9- million people in June 2016, this means that the country will reach the 40 per cent Internet penetration mark in 2017 year.
Finally reaching the point where we can say every second adult South
African is connected to the Internet is a major landmark, because Internet
access is becoming synonymous with economic access, For this reason, it is critical that the country prioritise the roll-out of infrastructure in underserved areas, especially outside the major metropolitan areas.
The report reveals that the single most common use of the Internet among South African adults is Communication, reported by almost a third (31 percent) of respondents, followed by Social Networking (24.9 per cent) and Information (23.7 per cent), both reported by almost a quarter of respondents.
Only then comes Entertainment, at 22.1 per cent.
A nation that is well equipped to address the digital challenges of the 21st century will be in a position to use technology to their advantage.