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Whatever
happened
to the
Digital
Divide?
Marcus Leaning
Four and a half questions…
1. Do you have a mobile phone with you right now?
2. Do you remember a time before the internet – can you remember
doing things like searching for information before we had the
internet?
II. Do you remember communicating with people before social media?
3. Do you make and upload content (pictures, videos, music, writing)
to the internet / social media?
4. Do you ever regret the invention of social media and the internet?
Do you ever lament its place in our lives? Has it made things worse?
The Digital Divide
• The ‘digital divide’ refers to a gulf between those who have ready
access to the internet and those who do not.
• My career is as old as the divide and it has driven and inspired me.
• Tonight I want to examine the divide and look at three key ways or
dimensions in which it operates:
• Access – who does and does not have access to the internet;
• Education – what do we need to know to access it;
• Participation – who is making the content that we consume.
• We will look at academic research on the topic (including some of my
own, but I will hide it well) and try to determine if the digital divide is
still a problem.
The Internet…
• Internet technologies emerged in the late
1960s / early 1970s – first email like
communication sent 1971.
• Web invented in 1989 and developed in the
early 1990s, popular use grows very fast.
• Recognition that access to the internet can
have big benefits for both an individual and
for society as a whole.
Benefits of the internet – the sales pitch…
• The internet was thought to have lots of benefits:
• Economic – impact of internet on GDP, huge savings.
• Political – challenges undemocratic power systems;
• Social – allows people to access health and educational
information;
• Psychological – connectivity affords sociality.
• Creative – the ability to produce will lead to a
flowering of creativity.
• The internet seen as a tool for alleviating poverty
and challenging forms of social inequality.
• These advantages are denied to people who
don’t have it though.
• There are different dimensions to the divide.
1st Dimension of the digital divide - Access
• In the past 23 years the percentage of
the world’s population who have
access to the internet has risen from
0.04% (16 million) in 1995 to 54.4%
(4.1 billion people).
• In developed countries it has had a
faster adoption rate than any
communications technology in
history.
• Significant efforts to go further,
• UN SDG 9 “universal access”
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80
Landline
Radio
Colour Television
Internet
Years to 85% penetration in
developed countries
0.00%
10.00%
20.00%
30.00%
40.00%
50.00%
60.00%
1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Proportion of world population who access to the internet at least once every 30
days 2018
Who has access?
• Defined by The ITU as use of the
internet from any location in 30 day
period.
• Current global figure of 54.4% hides a
lot of variation.
• Most connected country on earth is
Iceland at 100% internet penetration.
• UK has 92% access and Europe as a
whole has 85%, US on 89%.
• Over 70% of the world’s users live 20
countries.
• Eritrea at just over 1% while North
Korea is on 0.1%.
Contemporary
Access Rates
A (sadly unsurprising) wealth to access
relationship
1. A very strong relationship between income and access:
• Globally speaking the richer you are the more likely you are to have access.
2. This is more evident in poor countries than in rich ones:
• The rich have access the poor tend not to.
• Access costs a lot more in developing countries, EG access in Laos costs 10 the
amount it does in Singapore.
3. A positive correlation of National GDP of a country to extent of internet
access
• One study noted that in developing countries for every 10% increase in GDP a
country gains the number of internet users increase by 21.5%.
• Direction of causality undetermined – having the internet is also thought to make
you more productive, nor is a third factor ruled out.
Gender and access
• Globally women are on average 12.2%
less likely to have access.
• In least-developed countries the gap is
31%.
• Despite best efforts the gap is actually
growing in many countries and has
increased on average globally.
• The gap narrows the more educated the
woman is.
• Also worse in rural areas than in cities.
• Understood to be due to existing
structural and power relationships.
0%
5%
10%
15%
20%
25%
30%
35%
World Developed Developing Least Developed
Digital Gender Divide
Rate of growth
• Rate of growth in internet access has
been decreasing for past 8 years as
‘low-hanging fruit’ are picked.
• Past three years a steep slow down in
increasing the number online.
• Result of:
• Harder to reach people with multiple
aspects of poverty;
• Other priorities for aid (disasters,
conflict, water, sanitation, education)
0
2
4
6
8
10
12
14
16
18
20
2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
% increase in global internet users
Within country divides – the UK
• Overall 93% of the 16+ UK
population access the Internet at
least once every 30 days.
• However, other factors mitigate
overall access rates.
• In the UK most consequential
factors are age, social economic
group and education.
Age
16-24 25-44 45-64 65-74 75+
99% 97% 90% 74% 41%
Socio-economic group
DE C2 C1 AB
74% 90% 97% 99%
Education
Less-educated More-educated Highest-
educated
84% 97% 99%
Problems beyond access:
1. The hardware economy
• What we use to access makes a difference.
• Globally 49.7% of access is now through mobile
devices such as phones and tablets, much higher
in developing countries where for many the only
access is via mobile device.
• In developed countries mobile device is the
predominant means of access for lower socio-
economic groups.
• Tablets and phones are designed as devices for
consumption not production:
• good for watching, reading, searching.
• not good for lengthy typing, image manipulation,
editing, or creating.
• Topic we return to shortly… 0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
Percentage who only use mobile
device to access the Internet
Problems beyond access:
2. Technology alone is not enough…
• Internet access alone is not enough to gain
the benefits.
• Example: OLPC – launched 2007
• $100, powerful, tough, external manual charger,
wifi enabled.
• Paid for by govts. in developing countries (from
education budgets) and a few gifts.
• 3 million eventually shipped, Uruguay, Peru,
Rwanda, Argentina, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua
and others.
2nd Dimension of the digital divide - Education
• In less than one year usage was below 20%.
• Many educational problems (it didn’t fit what
needed to be taught) but the main problem
was no training of students or teachers.
• In numerous instances provision remains
unused due to users either not being trained
or not seeing the value in use.
• Evidence that better educated people were
able to use them but the people who need
access the most also need training the most.
• From late-2000s emphasis focussed on
training.
2nd Dimension of the digital divide - Education
• Umbrella term of ‘digital literacy’
to be able to use the digital
technology and the internet.
• Lots of efforts to meet this with
teacher upskilling and short
courses for new users in libraries,
schools, colleges to accompany
technological initiatives.
• Also commercial organisations –
• having digital customers is cheaper
than dealing with face to face ones.
3rd dimension – participation and creation
• Most recent attention focusses on what people
do online once they are there.
• Different levels of engagement with digital
media.
• A distinction between consuming, participating
and creating digital content.
• Content includes: images, films,/video, music and
sound, graphic objects, writing.
• Virtually everyone searches for information,
many participate and communicate but far
fewer people create and disseminate.
Action Viewer %
Watch 100%
Like 64%
Share 54%
Comment 31%
Upload <1%
Creating and partaking… Globally
• Almost 5 times as much content - blogs,
videos, images, films, web pages is
produced by people in wealthy OECD
countries than by rest of the world
combined.
• Reasons include:
• Institutional – companies who make
content based in developing countries;
• Skill levels – technical skill barriers;
• Platforms of usage – mobile devices not
designed to afford creative action.
80%
9%
7%
4%
% of global content
production
High per capita income OECD
High per capita income non OECD
Mid level capita income non OECD
Low level capita income non OECD
Within country participation divides
• For those with access and technical skills there are
further issues.
• In the UK and US educational level and socio-
economic group relate to what people do on-line.
• Better educated and A, B, C1 socio-economic
groups:
• Social media use and content production for personal
branding and professional networking.
• Lower educational level and C2, D, E.
• Sociability is the purpose of social media, content
creation and participation for entertainment purposes.
What to make of the digital divide 23 years
on?
• What has changed in the past 23 years?
• We now realise that addressing the digital divide is
more complex than simply providing internet access.
• People must have the skills to use it.
• Even then existing social factors play a huge part.
• The digital divide was understood as barrier to
alleviating poverty, we now understand that poverty
is a lot more complex that just not having the
internet.
• Indeed despite our best hopes the internet may well
be another space in which social stratification occurs
and poverty is made manifest.

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Whatever happened to the digital divide

  • 2. Four and a half questions… 1. Do you have a mobile phone with you right now? 2. Do you remember a time before the internet – can you remember doing things like searching for information before we had the internet? II. Do you remember communicating with people before social media? 3. Do you make and upload content (pictures, videos, music, writing) to the internet / social media? 4. Do you ever regret the invention of social media and the internet? Do you ever lament its place in our lives? Has it made things worse?
  • 3. The Digital Divide • The ‘digital divide’ refers to a gulf between those who have ready access to the internet and those who do not. • My career is as old as the divide and it has driven and inspired me. • Tonight I want to examine the divide and look at three key ways or dimensions in which it operates: • Access – who does and does not have access to the internet; • Education – what do we need to know to access it; • Participation – who is making the content that we consume. • We will look at academic research on the topic (including some of my own, but I will hide it well) and try to determine if the digital divide is still a problem.
  • 4. The Internet… • Internet technologies emerged in the late 1960s / early 1970s – first email like communication sent 1971. • Web invented in 1989 and developed in the early 1990s, popular use grows very fast. • Recognition that access to the internet can have big benefits for both an individual and for society as a whole.
  • 5. Benefits of the internet – the sales pitch… • The internet was thought to have lots of benefits: • Economic – impact of internet on GDP, huge savings. • Political – challenges undemocratic power systems; • Social – allows people to access health and educational information; • Psychological – connectivity affords sociality. • Creative – the ability to produce will lead to a flowering of creativity. • The internet seen as a tool for alleviating poverty and challenging forms of social inequality. • These advantages are denied to people who don’t have it though. • There are different dimensions to the divide.
  • 6. 1st Dimension of the digital divide - Access • In the past 23 years the percentage of the world’s population who have access to the internet has risen from 0.04% (16 million) in 1995 to 54.4% (4.1 billion people). • In developed countries it has had a faster adoption rate than any communications technology in history. • Significant efforts to go further, • UN SDG 9 “universal access” 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 Landline Radio Colour Television Internet Years to 85% penetration in developed countries
  • 7. 0.00% 10.00% 20.00% 30.00% 40.00% 50.00% 60.00% 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 Proportion of world population who access to the internet at least once every 30 days 2018
  • 8. Who has access? • Defined by The ITU as use of the internet from any location in 30 day period. • Current global figure of 54.4% hides a lot of variation. • Most connected country on earth is Iceland at 100% internet penetration. • UK has 92% access and Europe as a whole has 85%, US on 89%. • Over 70% of the world’s users live 20 countries. • Eritrea at just over 1% while North Korea is on 0.1%.
  • 10. A (sadly unsurprising) wealth to access relationship 1. A very strong relationship between income and access: • Globally speaking the richer you are the more likely you are to have access. 2. This is more evident in poor countries than in rich ones: • The rich have access the poor tend not to. • Access costs a lot more in developing countries, EG access in Laos costs 10 the amount it does in Singapore. 3. A positive correlation of National GDP of a country to extent of internet access • One study noted that in developing countries for every 10% increase in GDP a country gains the number of internet users increase by 21.5%. • Direction of causality undetermined – having the internet is also thought to make you more productive, nor is a third factor ruled out.
  • 11. Gender and access • Globally women are on average 12.2% less likely to have access. • In least-developed countries the gap is 31%. • Despite best efforts the gap is actually growing in many countries and has increased on average globally. • The gap narrows the more educated the woman is. • Also worse in rural areas than in cities. • Understood to be due to existing structural and power relationships. 0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% World Developed Developing Least Developed Digital Gender Divide
  • 12. Rate of growth • Rate of growth in internet access has been decreasing for past 8 years as ‘low-hanging fruit’ are picked. • Past three years a steep slow down in increasing the number online. • Result of: • Harder to reach people with multiple aspects of poverty; • Other priorities for aid (disasters, conflict, water, sanitation, education) 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 % increase in global internet users
  • 13. Within country divides – the UK • Overall 93% of the 16+ UK population access the Internet at least once every 30 days. • However, other factors mitigate overall access rates. • In the UK most consequential factors are age, social economic group and education. Age 16-24 25-44 45-64 65-74 75+ 99% 97% 90% 74% 41% Socio-economic group DE C2 C1 AB 74% 90% 97% 99% Education Less-educated More-educated Highest- educated 84% 97% 99%
  • 14. Problems beyond access: 1. The hardware economy • What we use to access makes a difference. • Globally 49.7% of access is now through mobile devices such as phones and tablets, much higher in developing countries where for many the only access is via mobile device. • In developed countries mobile device is the predominant means of access for lower socio- economic groups. • Tablets and phones are designed as devices for consumption not production: • good for watching, reading, searching. • not good for lengthy typing, image manipulation, editing, or creating. • Topic we return to shortly… 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 Percentage who only use mobile device to access the Internet
  • 15. Problems beyond access: 2. Technology alone is not enough… • Internet access alone is not enough to gain the benefits. • Example: OLPC – launched 2007 • $100, powerful, tough, external manual charger, wifi enabled. • Paid for by govts. in developing countries (from education budgets) and a few gifts. • 3 million eventually shipped, Uruguay, Peru, Rwanda, Argentina, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua and others.
  • 16. 2nd Dimension of the digital divide - Education • In less than one year usage was below 20%. • Many educational problems (it didn’t fit what needed to be taught) but the main problem was no training of students or teachers. • In numerous instances provision remains unused due to users either not being trained or not seeing the value in use. • Evidence that better educated people were able to use them but the people who need access the most also need training the most. • From late-2000s emphasis focussed on training.
  • 17. 2nd Dimension of the digital divide - Education • Umbrella term of ‘digital literacy’ to be able to use the digital technology and the internet. • Lots of efforts to meet this with teacher upskilling and short courses for new users in libraries, schools, colleges to accompany technological initiatives. • Also commercial organisations – • having digital customers is cheaper than dealing with face to face ones.
  • 18. 3rd dimension – participation and creation • Most recent attention focusses on what people do online once they are there. • Different levels of engagement with digital media. • A distinction between consuming, participating and creating digital content. • Content includes: images, films,/video, music and sound, graphic objects, writing. • Virtually everyone searches for information, many participate and communicate but far fewer people create and disseminate. Action Viewer % Watch 100% Like 64% Share 54% Comment 31% Upload <1%
  • 19. Creating and partaking… Globally • Almost 5 times as much content - blogs, videos, images, films, web pages is produced by people in wealthy OECD countries than by rest of the world combined. • Reasons include: • Institutional – companies who make content based in developing countries; • Skill levels – technical skill barriers; • Platforms of usage – mobile devices not designed to afford creative action. 80% 9% 7% 4% % of global content production High per capita income OECD High per capita income non OECD Mid level capita income non OECD Low level capita income non OECD
  • 20. Within country participation divides • For those with access and technical skills there are further issues. • In the UK and US educational level and socio- economic group relate to what people do on-line. • Better educated and A, B, C1 socio-economic groups: • Social media use and content production for personal branding and professional networking. • Lower educational level and C2, D, E. • Sociability is the purpose of social media, content creation and participation for entertainment purposes.
  • 21. What to make of the digital divide 23 years on? • What has changed in the past 23 years? • We now realise that addressing the digital divide is more complex than simply providing internet access. • People must have the skills to use it. • Even then existing social factors play a huge part. • The digital divide was understood as barrier to alleviating poverty, we now understand that poverty is a lot more complex that just not having the internet. • Indeed despite our best hopes the internet may well be another space in which social stratification occurs and poverty is made manifest.